Archive for June 2012

Did You Say Latin American Studies in the Home of the Brave?

By Fernando Gomez Herrero  (fgh2173@gmail.com).

 

 

 

 

 

Initial Quotes.

 

And so the cruel story of the woman to whom a man has written a passionate letter and who asks in her turn: “What part of me seduced you the most?” To which he replies, “Your eyes,” and receives by return mail, wrapped in a package, the eye, which seduced him. The beauty and violence of this defiance against the platitude of the seducer. But also the diabolism of this woman, who takes revenge against the very wish to be seduced: trap for trap, eye for eye. Never did punishment take so awful a form as in this unscrupulous offering. She loses an eye, but he loses face –how will he be able from now on to “cast an eye” on a single woman without being afraid of getting one in return? For really nothing is worse than to utter a wish and to have it literally fulfilled: nothing is worse than to be rewarded on the exact level of one’s demand. He is caught in the trap by the object that surrenders to him as a literal object  (Jean Baudrillard’s Fatal Strategies (London: Pluto Press, {1983, 1990] 1999): pp. 120).

[T]he [attempted remarriage of a natural order and a social hierarchy] imposes on men a burden of tradition they can no longer support unreflectively as good and necessary… [T]he crisis of social order and the failure of attempts to resolve it throw men into a condition that may revive in a higher form a predicament faced by certain nonhuman primates. Lévi-Strauss once suggested that the behavior of these animals has lost the unreflective determinism of instinct without acquiring the conscious determination of conduct by learned rules; the genetic program is silent where the cultural one has not yet begun to speak. Hence, their acts seem without rhyme or reason, presenting to the observer the image of a restless bafflement forever incapable of hitting upon an order of group relations that would allow them to ascend the evolutionary ladder (…).

[T]he puzzling coexistence of resignation and disbelief, unequal power and egalitarian conviction that marks consciousness in liberal society. There is indeed a structure of domination. But it affects people’s outlooks on society and on themselves ambiguously. It cuts away its own ground by overturning faith in the naturalness of the established hierarchy. But by the same process through which it saps its own foundations it also poisons all other moral and political beliefs. People lose confidence in their own judgments. All their conceptions begin to seem mere prejudices of an age, a society, or a faction, whims produced by social arrangements for which no independent justification can be found. The resulting moral skepticism encourages either a despairing acceptance of the existing order or an aimless shifting from one pattern of inequality to another (Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s Law in Modern Society: Toward a Criticism of Social Theory (New York: The Free Press, 1976): pp. 132-3, 175.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction.

The main theme is the tense relationship between studies of culture, or cultural studies, in which the sign “culture” must acquire an expansive sense, high and low, official and unofficial or street level, and the world frame or vision provided by the geopolitical horizon of U.S. foreign policy, call it great-power politics, by virtue of being the sole standing superpower, with or without the possibility of permanent decline. The U.S. is also the “philanthropic ogre,” as Octavio Paz famously called it, the immediate here-and-now in which I happen to live and work, at least for the time being. Hence, this is about the geopolitics of culture, but also the (cultural) study of how geopolitics may (de-)prioritize specific areas of the world, (re)arrange, neglect, dismantle them, etc. if and when needed. No one has to presume benign intent always in either side of the equation, geopolitics and studies. My preference is for long-range, diachronic or historical vistas, obviously paying close attention to the synchronic or the immediate conjuncture. You may call what follows an elementary foray in a critical sociology of knowledge production in the vicinity of (historical) Latin American Studies, within if not entirely against the template of Area Studies, the conventional name of the modality of studies in full force in the Cold-War timeframe, officially left behind say in the 1980s. One of the suggestions in these pages is that this is still the looming shadow, the hunting ghost speaking to the smithereens of knowledge production of the disarray of disciplines, lately meshed-up by very tight budgets. Subjects and objects of knowledge production mirror each in such dire straits as we will get to see shortly. I have mostly in mind the disreputable humanities, but I am also happy to welcome the social sciences. Seeking early inspiration, I hold the candle with two seductively foreign intellectuals, Jean Baudrillard and Roberto Mangabeira Unger burning brightly on each side so to speak. The theme again: I wish to address avatars of the foreign humanities in a manner that is too close for comfort in this Age not of Aquarius, but of Obama.

 

 

 

Do not hold your breath for final solutions. I am not “fixing” problems. No totalitarian megalomania would do. And this was one question thrown at me the day of the public presentation, “o.k., so many problems, and the solution?” A typical impatience and the call is for superman to fix the problems he himself raised in public, like if you say it is broken, you own it! and I am rephrasing the clever line attributed to Colin Powell. My initial suggestion: mark the “cultural Latin” in the quotes, particularly in English-speaking environments, which has been my habitat already for more than two decades. Braudillard’s synthesis: a cruel literalism cutting through euphemism and fakery, supposedly from a generic sexualization formula of (false) seduction. Unger’s: the consideration of the impossible burden of tradition, and how such the lightness of being, if I may put it thus, may become the ideal, pliable and docile “conduct becoming” demanded by the crisis of social order and of the resulting structure of domination. If the French author plays up (semiotic) “agresivity” cutting through a certain (cold Anglo-Saxon) (post-) liberal politeness, or the bullshit, in the imagined scenario of abstract love-making, supposedly from the position of the justly aggrieved party, in this case, a non-descript woman not falling for the clumsy or aged Romeo (one suggestion: decorate your imagination with a memorable Donald Sutherland in Fellini’s great film Casanova (1976), the Brazilian intellectual cuts a more professorial figure, buttoned-up, straight-laced, even prophetic if you wish. He underlines the structural global crisis of the social order, while pointing fingers inside the prestigious precincts of legal studies. Unger disparages and chastises the symptomatic dessication of official knowledge production that typically accompanies the phenomenon of crisis, or perhaps better, crises in the radical, plural form. I doubt that Baudrillard gave reformism of academia, and US academia mostly, much thought. His America travel book conveys an attitude of wanting nothing to do with it, nothing out of there, but perhaps it is a mannerist pose. By contrast, Unger “shoots” in most directions (legal studies, social studies, philosophy, even the humanities). He speaks of the latter as mostly a subjectivist adventurism and hence worthless waste of time, which is also, perhaps surprisingly, complicit with the deteriorating status quo. He would not feel sorry to see most of them go in the current liquidation sale, and perhaps he might have included the living ghost of Baudrillard in here. The “swordfish” exchange by our admired French “adventurer” would surely not qualify for family value, but I should say that I am speculating on both accounts and I am not aware of any contact in the American zone between these two figures, and that would be worth the time, in our times of darkening, as Unger calls them publicly with a straight face. Baudrillard headed out in the direction of the “desert” of the imperial nation of North America expecting little of anything to come out of it, or of academia for that matter, except the big one, “catastrophe.” Thunder or whimper? Baudrillard’s tradition: the (American) ruins of the Enlightenment legacy. Unger’s: the reconstruction of the “classic” legacy of nineteenth century (European) social science. Distract, divert, confront, change and reform: one can cut the (intellectual) cards in various ways, obliquely and indirectly or more directly and polemically. Yet, isn’t a courageous and timely attitude of (d-)enunciation at least one necessary beginning of all good intellectual matters?

What are the institutionalized visions of our brave new world currently being produced and promoted? How exciting are these? What “lesser” varieties may be still hanging around in less illuminated corners of peripheral vision? “Eye” and “swordfish,” at least in relation to the previous quotes, may here help cut the deliberate silence, and the bullshit, about the marginality of the humanities including the “Latin” and the “American” (leave your literalist do-goodism with the slippers at home and bring a modicum of estrangement in relation to the signs in quotation marks, please). I propose to you that Latin American Studies is one identifiable variety of Area (or International) Studies among others, certainly the dominant sister among the Spanish-speaking options, which are not many, inside the dominant matrix of intelligibility, still call it Eurocentric Americanism (or Number-One U.S.A. against the European background, (step-)mother, playing now second fiddle to the rest-of-the-world background) if you wish (Unger framed the adventurist humanities, in between two escorts, right-wing Hegelianism and abstract theories of justice, which makes it, for him, three enemies). What are the available options? To play marginal, differential knowledge game, without ever seriously deviating from the main aforementioned frame (Eurocentric Americanism, or even some form of US-centric (Latin) Americanism)? Or, perhaps does some kind of ethnographic and differential area study, a kind of anthropology of the other cultural variety and difference maximizing “localization,” as they say in the business world, but up to a point, rarely in the modality of belligerence and dissidence? One conventional variety of Latin American Studies is the thinning out of the historical legacy of European imperialism and colonialism, as though one had to accept the fallacy that the latest date is always already the most meaningful and the most relevant  (Octavio Paz, again, spoke of the difference in Spanish in between “coetáneo” and “contemporáneo,” “coeval” and “contemporary” may be faithful translations, and the first adjective is highly unusual in the land of the perennial “modern,” “postmodern” is also not idiomatic, and it was Johannes Fabian who convincingly spoke of the coloniality mechanism embedded in the “denial of coevalness:” the amputation of historicity is a clear sign of the instrumentalist subordination of knowledge to the crisis of social order, call it pedestrian literacy dished out like fast-food in the student cafeteria).

The default rationale is the purely functionalist one, the presumably most accessible or closest modality, or “culture.” The typical knowledge-offering arrangement covers the most “manageable” chronology of the 20th century, and you may surely include other disciplines in this conventional ethos (all “foreign languages,” “English,” the social sciences, “philosophy,” etc.). Where else is “old” used as a term of affront (as in this is “getting old”)? The historicity of the object of study undergoes the amputations of the Procrustean bed as the most natural thing on earth: thin object and flat earth. This way of “doing history” by imaginatively avoiding it, by picking one or two layers of the onion and not the whole onion so to speak, by also putting oneself out of it, so to speak, by hiding it or oneself underneath the table, and covering eyes and ears with hands and feet, or by closing the house door so that the tornado or the hurricane do not bring us “history,” strikes me as distinctly American phenomena, most currently institutionalized, one must say, besides regular course offerings, in faculty hiring, and I want to believe, and I say so half-humorously, that other nationalities still do this “historical crime” less often. Should I hold my breath? The symptom being of course the very fact of the alienation from “history,” indiscriminately all of it, in toto, as though the others, the foreigners are it, do it and have it, but the U.S. natives are, do and have less of it, or want to have none of it. And you can pull the strings of this conventional way of talking and thinking: the foreigners do history in their timepaces and one needs an area study of them to get to know it, and use it and probably abuse it following foreign policy interests typically targeting a crisis that reaches us, that is why we bother with them in the first place (the “us versus them” is of course the explicit political formula that is always already implicit in knowledge production, and one can also think of disparities in the different fields of knowledge production as social-class differentials, even antagonism, cutting through native-foreign distinctions, the upper-classes do law, the foreign petty-bourgeois do foreign literature and culture, etc. and the exceptions remain the exceptions).

I am using the analytical scissors to cut some grass in the immediate observation platform so that we can see better some of its ideological underpinnings in relation to the sign “history.” The immediate circumstance is still somehow typically constructed as though it was above and separate, out of history, not here but gone fishing. The immediate circulation platform is intentionally thin in history, and thus more light, moveable and adjustable, more “modern,” also more abstract, with less defined chronological and geographical boundaries than some foreign projection. The initial impression of the sign of weakness in the little feeling for and appreciation of chronology and geography may turn into a sign of strength, plasticity, resilience, etc. if such more independent subject construction becomes normalized. And isn’t this increasing mobility the fitting ideological platform of a society of individuals with precious attachments, if any to localities and chronologies? Work by David Harvey and Paul Virilio, among others, may enrich these timespace mutations constitutive of late or advanced, global capitalism and how these mutations penetrate our minds, thoughts, (un-)conscious language uses, feelings… I have simply, superficially recreated a certain mindset that I would still crudely call “post-historical American,” in its alienation from its own historical development, and obviously an affected distance from all other societies, automatically located in the adjectival line-up of the thickly historical, the area-studies international, the subordinate, the underdeveloped, the missing this and the lacking that, the abject position, the (proto-)American. The “post-historical American” (final) solution: the assimilation and Americanization of these dimension, particularly when they are perceived to be too close for comfort, so that the world exemplifies, yes,  rich cultural “diversity,” and the domestic mirror is ideologically the “minority” groups, what else if not against a “silent white majority” or the “Same” (most blatantly in latest Census and (institutional) setting, the “change in demographics,” as the euphemism has it). Isn’t it true that the higher levels, the levels theoretically post-elementary literacy, of the units called most recently Latin American and Iberian Studies, are institutionally predominantly placed inside the box of “cultural diversity core courses” fulfilling the humanities requirement in the conventional US undergraduate education? Aren’t we dealing with the imaginary of endangered species in relation to both subjects and objects of knowledge production above all, over referentiality? And what are the options out there at a moment of undisguised corporatization of university structures? E pluribus unum and the scales of justice officially lean on the “same” portion over the diverse plurality, Parmenides sits on Heraclitus so to speak, and the symbolic might of the self-declared most powerful nation state on earth and its institutional links and connections with institutions of higher learning must clearly be something worth paying attention to (the conventionality of public-university educators in minor countries can only imagine the “Seventh Heaven” of imperial design, think tanks, latest updates of initiatives such as the Inquiry for Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Paris moment, the writing of the democratic  constitution of the invaded nation, etc.).

 

Crisis is the stereotypical focus of international relations and foreign policy in relation to foreign areas as soon as it acquires transcendental importance  (the crisis may disrupt the social-class arrangement, the region, economic zone, etc.). This must now be rethought as a systemic situation that always already includes the immediate observation platform that is not immune to it, at least in the times of darkening, at least according to Unger’s formulation. The increasing unschooling of the historical self-awareness must be considered instead the largely intentional institutional manufacture of an epistemic debilitation, also disorientation, perhaps loss. Handling this normal situation is more serious than what first appears.

Consequently, the conventional instrumentalization of the historical making of foreignness within Cold-War demarcation areas has to be perceived as a deeply disturbing sign, but also the conventional historical-thin or even ahistorical-anorexic making of the native stomping ground. Call it withdrawal (symptom) from history. And there has been a whole body of literature apropos such withdrawal and such recuperation in the vicinity of the Fukujama’s popular, right-wing Hegelian ending of history in the sense of ultimate US-dominated liberal-democracy horizon, now brought into question and here’s where we stand among eternal business optimists, hard-core skeptics, revivalists, “declinists,” tinkerers, reformers, etc. One possible reading is making the current president the careful manager of the permanent US decline. Another, the genuine mutation of higher education in the US since the 1980s when the corporatization affirmed itself. Foreignness (visions larger than the national domain) and diachronicity (long range, even time-honored), particularly in the field of the (foreign) humanities, do not go easy inside a nation that does not know its own historical development (I am not that old not to remember when the MLA job list included the chronology-option job search button in the generic “foreign-language” section, no more). Timespaces get accelerated and mixed up, increasingly simplified and jumbled up, looked at retroactively from the end of the tail in a day and age of little wind so to speak, inside a global society, call it still perhaps the U.S., with little taste and feeling, and presumably no time, for a sustainable comparativism of temporalities and geographies labeled “other” (“chrono-topes” would be a valid synonym of these foreign timespaces, and I do not feel one has to endorse necessarily the narratological methods of the originator Bakhtin, automatically). I do not tire of emphasizing the foreignness of historical timespaces side by side the humanities (or the liberal arts) at an inhospitable time of standard inhumanity (or illiberality) always with an eye towards the immediate circumstance. The crucial move: No old time was better. The critique holds itself by the hair, so to speak. The crucial thing is what one does with such historical construction of a thickly textured foreignness. One option: what about making it more expansive and more beautiful, bringing it closer to “home,” whatever that noun in quotation marks might be?

I want thus to bring priority attention to the “humanities” (i.e. multiple ideographic textures allowing for potential thick descriptions of seductive persuasion) against the normalized “inhumanity” of fast-paced, disjointed global society in which we live, supposedly outside the single abstractions of Nature and Tradition. Isn’t it a sign of such deterioration how your students give you “opinions” of those texts they have barely read? There is something about this surfacing that is very telling of something larger pointing in the direction of the society of consumption, brand names, etc. Large units of compare and contrast, traffic and dialogue are typically ironed out, thinned out, if not entirely lost accordingly in rapid traffic, and the exchange between the immediate circumstance and others, is not typically activated in ways that are conducive to multiplicity of perspectives in a way that is hermeneutically distinct, potentially threatening. The marketing of the classroom reproduces such inhumanity and inequality of timespaces, thinner foreignness and invisible nativism to put it bluntly, and how to do things otherwise in the current set-up of fast, short-term exchanges? Your experience will also tell you that it is –always?, often?– easier to find the jingoistic depiction of foreignness, the manufactured consent of the faulty foreign, than the opposite, the critique if not the disparagement of the native ground of belief system in ways that it may forcefully break it open to greener fields of imaginary pasture. I am sure you will agree with me, inside the grotesque divide o the (American) transnational consumer culture, versus “international” modalities of the rest of the world, made conventional purchase in education programs of study, but also in fields of study such as international relations, foreign relations, and commonly in cinema, entertainment and sports. Will the institutional drive go in the direction of the most customers? (in the field of sports, American football or “(world) football” for example?, mutatis mutandis, the world of (American) universities?). But one must not take the part (U.S.) for the whole (the international world inside which the U.S. is still included), and kick the latter out of the boundaries of the former (again, mutatis mutandis: America versus Latin America, and your confident bilingual English / Spanish skills instantly understand the naturalized fraud and fight ferociously against it). Symptomatically then, minority and international share the space in conventional university education requirements, as they also do in one or two independent theaters for one week or so but mostly in big cities, you may forget about the rest of the proud country largely oblivious of, if not entirely disconnected from, larger networks of connectivity. But isn’t this less and less of a sustainable situation for any society out there? I personally never doubted its ground-zero seduction.

 

 

Where Is the Most Vigorous Language Use?

 

A “cruel” question: Where do you see good examples of the most vigorous language use (and I wish to maintain the parallel between the world of institutions and the streets)? Perhaps do you see them in the world of digitality, advertisement, sports inside capitalist-market language of consumption excitement? Would you find it perhaps in relation to what gets crudely addressed as “ethnic” (read: non-white) groups of diverse eloquence (think of Tego Calderón’s reggaeton, for example in relation to Spanish-speaking circles in the United States, or even your inherited modality)? Consider the following: “Cultural/Ethnic Studies, the political corrective to Eurocentric Comparative Literature” (Spivak, “Rethinking Comparativism,” An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2012), p. 469). The whole play is in the five adjectives. In the ruins of “literature” and the smithereens of “culture,” in the institutional basements of basic (Spanish / English) literacy pedagogy, anything exciting coming out of these fields of knowledge claiming something of a diverse alternative since the 1970s? How does Rolena Adorno’s variety of colonial studies fit here, side by side Spivak’s previous claim, and trajectory against the immediate landscape of the U.S. university system? Of course, Spivak never got to see into the Hispanic / Latin American dimensions besides the occasional quoting from her former Columbia colleague Jean Franco. She would probably put that dimension inside the cultural / ethnic in the heterodox branch (Spanish has none of the pedigree that French still holds, for her, even in the aforementioned latest book, against the funeral ceremony for the death of the discipline of comparative literature). The Yale team (González Echevarría / Adorno) will not seek this kind of proximity or anything vaguely remoted to “cultural studies.” I feel Spivak’s moment is not ours: Area Studies including of course the U.S., appear wrapped up in strategic silence, providing escort service to the bafflement and disorientations of a confusing world, perhaps in the manner of a poker player bluffing. Same thing applies, I would defend, to fields of “culture” and “literature,” currently undergoing liquidation sales. Managerial decisions are being made without the most persuasive rhetoric as to how and why. What is the default logic if not the corporate logic of maximum supply-demand benefit in the short term? “World literature” is one name for such phase of strategic amalgamation and indefinition and it feels to me more than a return to the generic humanities-education requirement, “elementary culture” [cultura general] as it was called, of your parents’ generation in another time and place. There is something insidious here besides the verneer of culture, the ornamentation of custom jewellery for those customers who never had much feeling to lose apropos high culture and laborious self-cultivation and personal (emotional, intellectual) enrichment in the first place (think of the etymology of “culture” to travel to the antipodes of the current orthodox popular cultural-study classroom-consumption meaning). Isn’t it true that American students say they do not want “literature” any more? And what do they mean by that if not the undermining of the interpretive grounds of literacy/literary mechanisms? I assure you that I am much more interested in interrogating than bemoaning. The interrogation of such sign –“literature”– has occurred in fields such as Latin American Studies with some vigor and rigor at least since the 1970s, if not before. There is no going back to how things were back then, no matter Adorno’s language of the “incandescence” of the successful literary text in the Latin American context. Do my lips sink ships?

 

I got to witness recently a tremendous eloquence in the unsmiling vicinity of the Brazilian intellectual. And in hindsight, the experience must mitigate somewhat the explicit content of the critical enunciation, if only to allow for the obvious social function of institutional self-promotion. Isn’t such allowance the inevitable eye of the cyclop –the big Other– that may allow for the “intrusion” of “unintended consequences”? The question included in the title of this article remains important, and not only for those nominally in the business of language and thought, textual exegesis and glossatorial method: one type of study brings others, one area study brings others, one language, all others, etc. if only implicitly. Where do you find English and Spanish to name, but the two most popular languages, tangled up in epistemic fights around historical vistas and political projects that question the here and the there? I want to join accordingly the desire for drastic reform, voiced by Unger, and bring it closer to the paltry merchandise that humanistic knowledge stands for at the present moment, which is little more than ornamentalism, bunting, fireworks or cultural activities for the social life of the privatization of social relations drastically cut down as I am writing these lines. The unmitigated educational crisis is one mirror image corresponding to the larger crisis of signification appertaining to a crisis of social order, happening there and then but also firmly here and now.

Imagine the colorful arrangement of the Matryoshka (Russian) dolls of various sizes fitting into each other: the crisis of ground of belief in textual exegesis within an increasingly illiterate, eminently visual society, the pedagogic dungeons of elementary literacy against the “oceanic feeling” of illiteracy so to speak, corresponds to the structural, institutional mechanism of discontinuous, cheap labor for education professionals, streamlining, degrading and evacuation from within, which corresponds to the eminent domain of capitalist values of the official, global society in which we live, typically with a poor articulation of such values (I do not tire of mentioning that the very word “capitalism” is tainted in the American English idiom, and hence silenced, even among believers, and hence the preference for “market” and “free trade,” as though naming properly the deity they profess to adore, and one hesitates with the verb, is always already symptom of the opposite, of the lack of sincerity, confidence, and belief among the subjects occupying the church pews, while they still defend against all odds that this is the only church there is, but no potent rhetoric, no poetry, no powerful images are forthcoming, it is a default mechanism that leaves things as they are as it were, and they are apparently unable to get out of the building, like Luis Buñuel characters under some kind of curse, collective limitation or idiocy). Unger has the courage of dishing out a harsh diagnosis, whether in high or low places, and I wish I could see this attitude more often, precisely because there is no easy fixing of a “solution.” I want to say a few things about what I see happening accordingly.

There are two main sections in what follows: One. The recapture of the virtual document that was made available for an event at Harvard University. I will deal with my own questions included in the poster of the said event as I go along (www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=867; www.drclas.harvard.edu/events/rll_lecture_latin_american_studies_mar29).

 

 

Two: Combining the foreign sensibilities of Jean Baudrillard and Roberto Mangabeira Unger, holding two different types of books in my hands so to speak, Fatal Strategies and  Law in Modern Society: Toward a Criticism of Social Theory, I will explore summarily some of these sociologies of university knowledge production in the vicinity of Latin American Studies (the reader may be tempted to put his/her favorite type of studies and see to the differences). I prioritize the immediate U.S. context, call it quickly post-literate and post-liberal society, perhaps also post-imperial, which is where I have lived for the last fifteen years (Unger spoke of “post-liberal” society already in Law in Modern Society: Toward a Criticism of Social Theory published in 1976!, so it is good to keep things in perspective). Readers not acquainted with this setting may think this is peculiar, intriguing, surprising, old story, feel solidarity, animosity and pity the writer accordingly, or not at all. If your pedagogic experience may not need additional materials, a few readers may, hence, source will be the recent Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa “Academic Life on a Sliding Scale,” www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=75). Baudrillard, to me at least, behaved elusively and obliquely as though there was little to hope for, except “catastrophes” to an American conditioning of the world, remember the main protagonist in the science fiction film L.Q. Jones’ A Boy and His Dog (1975). Unger by stark contrast, remains entrepreneurial and speaks instead of radical reform of legal studies in times of “darkening” against the larger background of the anniversary of the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) at Harvard Law School. Perhaps identity politics, or even racial profiling, is never too far away: it does not hurt that Brazil is an emerging power seeking to play in the major leagues. It does not appear to be immediately feasible to be Baudraillardian and Ungerian at the same time. I celebrate that both intellectuals do not appear to be controlled by their institutional surroundings but I have no way of knowing this for certain, particularly in relation to the French author who died 5 years ago. Baudrillard language of “anti-pedagogy” forces the critical imagination to come up with a game plan. Without false nostalgias, I close down with the demise of dreams of university models no longer available to us anymore, and include in the literacy neighborhood a couple of funny anecdotes about literalism and swordfish.

May I Ask How the Patient Is Doing Today?

 

Language implodes in settings supposedly devoted entirely to (foreign) language acquisition. Inferential or circumstantial evidence will be eloquent, like the anecdote in which someone mentions to a group meeting in the hospital room, “what is wrong with the patient, it does not look good, or my, is it alive, dead, or what?” No response from the group members. After some time, “oh my, but look at the cracks in the ceiling above you, it looks like it could come down any minute!” No nurse, no Janine Lindenmulder approaching the group, no tattoos, no gloves: no response. The members of the group do not approach the patient etherized upon the table, instead looking elsewhere quickly tiptoe heading for the exit sign without marking the Prufrock quote, or philosophizing about the decline of the West or the imperial demise, or the most likely prospects for the Spanish profession in the home of the brave. What would a good observer conclude from such generalized “don’t say anything if you have nothing nice to say,” a quintessential American saying, about the so-called “foreign languages,” a bastard name if there ever was one?

I am sure you will join my impatience and displeasure at such types of silence speaking loudly of a profound timidity in the academic profession (but your vision of the academic profession may simply be of limited literacy firmly within corporate precincts). In front of the mirror: are you waiting for Godot, that is, the reconfiguration of the humanistic knowledge production in such moments of liquidation? Perhaps social-class configuration of the practitioners of this or that discipline have something to do with the eloquence of the discipline, the expatriate lower-middle class component of most of the practitioners coming from minor countries not among the most numerous migrant countries arriving historically into the U.S. may exacerbate the tradition of epistemic timidity in some cases, but not necessarily always (I include myself in the class dimension aforementioned). Why fake it: I honestly feel we live in a moment of genuine existential hesitation of the superiority model, the U.S. as Number One, kept exceptional and separate from the rest of the world out and down there. The feeling of decline is real. Another thing is the persuasive diction about it. The crucial thing must be how to go about it in relation to the reconfiguration of the past and the future. Professionally, what is there to lose that has not already been lost? Do we deserve to be where we are?

At the hospital, Janine Lindenmulder confirms that there is more whimper than thunder. Some of your colleagues will admit to you to the bitter truth of the marginality and irrelevance, and perhaps even reach out figuratively to the horrid job market prospect, while holding nervously a cup of coffee in the student cafeteria, which is nice, and these ones have permanent jobs, mind you, and not a particularly exciting professional trajectory in the land of supreme impermanence. And yet these same ones acting out sincerity momentarily at a close distance will not get caught alive dealing with it intellectually, sociologically or historically, pick your favorite adverbial modality, in print or in film. The patient is not in good shape. The emperor is naked, yes, we all agree, how not to?, but include me out, please in the blog entry or the article, I say never, no photos, no nothing. The eye of cyclop may be watching and we are no reincarnations of Ulysses, but nobodies. And they smile the fake smile in public for the duration of the rest of their lives, which I wish fecund. Yet in another way: yes, the emperor is naked  (would it be legitimate to allegorize and feminize the abstraction like our Baroque ancestors?), and our older colleagues move about town and our wiser friends move about gown holding the chamber pots like hurried meninas or holding tight to the fig leaves to cover the official pudenda. Against the central theme of honest intellectual life making a decent living in the foreign humanities, these colleagues are pornographic in the sense included by Baudrillard in Fatal Strategies: the distraction from conceiving of obscenity in its general form (p. 55).

Did You Say “Don’t Say Anything if You Have Nothing Nice to Say”?

But mine is an impertinent attitude that is betraying the aforementioned “don’t say anything if you have nothing nice to say,” or stick to your little field of knowledge production attached to your national demarcation of foreign borders inside some conventional, if deflated WWII-Area Studies mapamundi that is being reconfigured as we speak following capitalist cartographies. Is the rubric of “Latin American Studies” within corporate institutions even conceivable without such dominant frame of intelligibility in the first place? Why not do without the rubric and the field if it is not profitable enough, accordingly? That may be one of the questions for the duration. And if not, what other logic could one conceive for the survivability of the foreign humanities vis-à-vis consumer and customer demand and supply?

In the shadow of the previous question, you will see how the foreign location is made wanting, faulty, derivative and subsidiary, “less” to the “more,” imperial by default, constantly new in such a way that everything stays the same within the immediate circumstance in which you happen to move professionally, at least for the time being. Some reification of language and thought is firmly taking place: “Latin America” is typically one modality of knowledge production among others, second to the typical first position of “Europe,” loosely demarcated, ornamental embellishment that circulates as marker of class privilege and prestige in the home of the brave, if you can afford it (Fernández Retamar voiced the double accusation of the arrogance of Western universality, of the attitude of the colonized mindset apropos a homogenous and uchronic Europe, in his Para una teoría de la literature hispanoamericana y otras aproximaciones). While underlining (disciplinary, representational) wars and mirrors of interested misrecognition, it is important to note that the historical and social privilege of a certain Europe, qua first or model position, is increasingly being eroded, day by day so to speak, in the immediate circumstance, still call it by the conventional misnomer of “American.” The crucial question is not know more about how and why and who might still want to push European studies, conventionally not considered “area studies” in the same way the “West” is not considered one civilization but “the” civilization (what does not get included here is typically considered “area studies” and “Third World,” with or without the proper Latin American protestations of a historico-philosophical trajectory such as Leopoldo Zea, O’Gorman, etc. which typically fall on deaf ears in the professional lands above the Rio Grande).

Subjects and objects of knowledge production of whatever timespace are re-arranged accordingly with no survival guarantees for anyone (the rubric “Atlantic,” and even “international,” is monopolized by those predictable sons and daughters of the selected pocket of Europe for example), against the more localized fields (East Asian, African, Latin American Studies, etc.), and the contemporary gerrymandering has already been mentioned, probably breaking free from continental containers (Brazil, India, China, recently, obviously connected to economic might). Perhaps a certain economic determinism is initially appropriate at least to visualize some of the stronger and increasingly more visible units made representative of the “humanities” and “social sciences” within the changing map. I am simply throwing some suggestions out there: the sole standing superpower of the U.S. versus the rest of the world with the shift in focus moving towards the Middle East and Asia, the vanishing mediation of the second world, perhaps the insurrections of the native or indigenous fourth world, the interpenetrations of the third world into the first, the compare and contrast of the largest economies in the EU within the West against the world background, the relative decline of Europe for U.S. interests and of the strategic alliance with Great Britain, the progressive de-emphasis in Eurocentrism, accordingly, the G-20 configuration, the re-arrangement of units of interest, i.e. the Unified Command Plan of the U.S. Department of Defense, www.defense.gov/home/features/2009/0109_unifiedcommand/, and it is easy to see the interconnection with certain initiatives, with or without unitended consequences: belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/project/64/middle_east_initiative.html). How do you think the Spanish-speaking world fare in all this? Your experience will tell you that humanistic knowledge does not for the most part follow scrupulous historicist-philological reconstructions or fitting descriptions of thick idiographic textures for a vigorous appreciation in good faith of such cultural riches in and of themselves following some kind of old-fashioned humanistic ideal of virtuous mankind of the happy few cultured practitioners. What arguments to put on the table for the careful study of thick diachronicities in the foreign language (say Quevedo, Inés de la Cruz to name but two) accordingly when the imperial language is becoming estranged from its European source, and increasingly made thin, illiterate, business-oriented, virtual, etc.? Corporate interests embedded in higher education have their own interests and priorities caught among owners and managers, localization structures, specific histories and trajectories, clients and customers, staff and faculty, stake-holders, boards of trustees, revenue streams, federal connections, etc. I will return to what I will call the Americanization of timespaces in the end in relation to the collapse of inherited university models. An appetizer: the making of geography and of space, non-contiguous; the making of temporality and chronology, discontinuous. What provides unification to those negative prefixes besides those forces of capital one can barely comprehend? Subjects and objects of knowledge production are inevitably caught up in this non-contiguous, discontinuous “set-up,” currently undergoing rapid accelerations, trying to make some sense out of it, a sense of teleology being so far away. And yet I cannot help but feel a narrowing of available options, but also intellectual? It should not be the case intellectually, even when at the most pressing individually, biographically.

Think of Richter’s “squeegee” paintings: there is something of this blurring going on with conventional nomenclatures of fields of study and its assigned practitioners. Two parallels: 1) summon the luxurious vegetation and categories that accompany the standard deterioration of short-term academic labor (postdoctoral fellow, teaching fellow, visiting assistant professor, lecturer, clinical, adjunct, instructor, etc.), in the generalized practice of open field of expertise, currently kept deliberately at part-time, non-livable-wage level, and how all this flattens out mercilessly into “teacher” in the American idiom, in the same way “college” becomes “colegio” in conventional Puerto-Rican Spanglish, hitting the bull’s eye by giving your back to the moving target and shooting in the opposite direction of prim precision, as it were); and 2) think of the pile-up of “minority” features in “minor” fields of knowledge productions against the presumption of the opposite, call it perhaps “silent majority,” at least since the 1970s, or the established beginning of the professional history that matters, at least in relation to the Rolena Adorno article. It is less clear what this means for the symbolic production of the Big Other, the eye of the cyclop semi-humorously mentioned earlier, almost fifty years after Nixon.

I would submit to you that there is something inauspicious about this “cumulative minority logic” that may have run its course. It feels to me like a defensive mechanism that cedes too much symbolic space to the enemy, if I may put it this way: the marker of difference cannot stand on its own but must add additional features of difference to try to hold its space of differential signification making its theoretical dent into the conventional armature (the assimilation model within the liberal-individual capitalistic matrix). It is with suspicion therefore that one can see the doubling and tripling of the differential markers in the manner comparable to the variation games within the same commodity brand. There is also the rigidification of the identity of subject and the object of knowledge, in which the former is the mouthpiece of the latter (identity politics, even racial profiling). Isn’t this a clear sign of the larger mechanism of de-differentiation or sameness? Think of the identity report cards filled out in employment situations for the eyes of federal agencies mostly. Bringing the cumulative minority logic to its absurdity: the Latin American subject of knowledge production corresponds with the Latin American object of knowledge production cut thinner and thinner, i.e. the non-white (Hispanic) woman of petty-bourgeois migrant background, or some differential marker, say alternative sexual preferences, inside an increasingly feminized social space. The subfields cover latest events. Her foreign-national area study is cut out to fit into a recent chronology and the latest field novelty increasingly cut off from larger background vistas, but also connectivity with the immediate circumstance. The increasing poverty of the international coverage mirrors the exceedingly poor representational quotas of U.S. “minorities.” There is a kind of generalism of both dimensions that also mirrors the aforementioned “silent majority.” Is it necessary to emphasize the perversion of the standard “minority” language against the monolithic and uchronic illusion of the “silent (white) majority”? This is the norm: the “white-by-default” presumption, and the troubling suggestion is that of the “white supremacist” mechanism is best at work precisely in these policies of diversity and difference, which make their way into knowledge-production situations inside corporatized institutions seeking federal funds. One possible analogy coming from the world of sports: think of this instrumentalization of this “social difference” operative within some assumed horizon of (market, national, international) “sameness” or “unity” or even “synthesis” in a manner comparable to the marketing strategy of national uniforms in an international template, think for example the FIFA Eurocup 2012. There is the official color combination of each team allowing for combinatory and mutational possibilities within a certain radius of experimentation, sometimes bold color contrasts, yet such variation game does not in the slightest challenge the officiality of recognizable colors, the rules of the game, the point being the incentivizing the economic infrastructure of the game, etc. Mutatis mutandis: the provocation of the “minority” logic that I am describing before and after and which I see as mostly an officialist, institutionalist defensive mechanism wanting to tame “difference.” One can also underline the adjective in “remedial education,” and perhaps even of endangered species inside institutions cutting down its operation budgets, precisely at a historical moment in which such construction of “whiteness” is officially announced to be on it way out in two or three decades. I do not have to tell you where Spanish and the Latin fit inside the American imaginary of subjects and objects of knowledge production inside university structures in a moment of unequivocal institutional deterioration. Hence, the “landscape management:” the conventional structure of course requirements thinning out, and the standard customer-consumer demand for Spanish and “Latin,” pedestrian literacy, running parallel with the previous diversification of precarious labor prospects, “floaters,” surely one of the most evocative terms, and the defensive logic, or the endangered logic, the exacerbated minority logic informing subjects and objects of knowledge production in the institutional mirror of misrecognition, operative inside ornamental fields. Wouldn’t some literalist and “cruel” disruption –think “swordfish”—be most welcome? I will bring it back in the end in relation to the thinner layers of the (minority) onion of the (humanistic) object of study of the historical foreign humanities, the rule of “inclusion” and the relative exception Rolena Adorno represents.

And How Else Would You Do the Arrangement?

 

And how else would you like to arrange the various subjects and the various objects of knowledge production providing service to the students and other customers (corporate language also speaks of “stake-holders” and “constituencies”)? The double phenomenon previously described (proliferation of labels and types of precarious, degrading working conditions, and liberal-multicultural labeling of education professionals exacerbating the  fantasmatic equation of “majority” and “white”) is undoubtedly parallel phenomenon to the non-denominational tendencies embedded in American society, at least in relation to the thin theological baggage of the various groups and sub-groups historically splintering from Protestantism. There is here, I must say, a palpable degree of lack of articulation that is not seductive, at least rhetorically, that keeps language at a distance, the common attitude being of disbelief in the linguistic capture of social energies. One common name: American lazy lip. But this is not the whole story. Observe how the “natives” change their religious denominations, the church affiliation, the informality in the forms, ceremony, ritual, attire, diction, etc. and the apparent lightness also in relation to their own name (you must know the football player called “ochocinco” (85) in prefabricated Spanish, but also the good looking colleague with the name of “Madera,” after Spanish for wood, the “funny” spellings, Condoleezza Rice, for example, the mixtures of syllables from the father and the mother, the brutal Americanization of name transformation and camouflage, for example Isaiah Berlin, I am fond of citing the equation of Americanization and “psychic violence” publicly defended by conservative journalists such as Robert Novak cited by Samuel Huntington in his latest anti-Hispanic book). There is something here of the arbitrariness of the sign that is genuinely individual free styling as though there was no reliable timespace to cling to, as though the monadic monad was outside Tradition and Nature, the capital-letters humiliated, the  singularity broken down into thousand and one smithereens. Such phenomenon speaks candidly of a genuine desire for flexibility and plasticity, but also of incongruities and inefficiencies increasingly embedded in spasmodic institutionalities, religious, educational or otherwise, which points in the direction of mutations of institutions, or perhaps even of de-institutionalization. There is a formlessness and one can perhaps accuse me of holding up to some notion of foreign form in my (European, or even Latin American) imagination. Fast, superficial exchanges inside short timeframes may well produce a climate of cynical conformism, and a situational or ad hoc type of conservatism, comparable to the theoretical flexibility of conservatives in foreign policy, for example, with little feeling for grand theories and philosophies of history, other than quick profit from the status quo. So these subjects want things to be flexible, with no fundamental changes, at least during the short timeframe of the institutionalized, corporatized social exchange increasingly found wanting, yet approached in a supremely cynical manner with practical expectations, also low and “conservative” with no dreaming of something radically different (Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa make the case for the precious little impact of university education in the undergraduate student body population, and the expensive price tag, within a climate of apathy and no-revolt). In this short-sighted context, also with the blinders firmly in place, it seems to me that the invocation of “history,” almost any kind of “history,” may ruffle the horse feathers.  Yet, what matters mostly is the interrogation of disruptive term in quotation marks.

The Docile and Superficial Presentation of the Nice Working Class Lad

 

I recently got to witness the presentation of a nice working-class-origin lad of a rather ugly industrial town in the north of the British Isles, already with grey hair. He’s got a long nose and he is not particularly good looking, but he is well educated in the classical languages in a recognizable institution of academic prestige in the English-speaking world. It turns out that our lad is now, on this side of the Atlantic mind you, in the state of the bear in the flag, close to the Pacific ocean, and he is writing a popular book about how the West rules, for now. The general presentation I got to witness was supremely frivolous in its light-touch of Europe and the rest, from an obliterated American platform of observation to which such Europe (or “Europoid” construct rather as the aforementioned Fernández Retamar would put it) kneels in the monolingual English perspective, but with better or more subtle diction. The cat was also dangerous in the general nomothetic universalism, sycophantic with the official observation platforms of the status quo. The intent is clear: the message of USA-number one in the discourse of the foreign immigrant academic, besides self-interested recycling of the classical legacy of Europe in lands with little appreciation for such themes. But there are foreigners and foreigners…  I cannot resist the temptation in regards to the influential intellectual Walter Lippman. In his uninhibited A Preface to Politics (U of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Paperback [1914], 1962, pp. 140-7), he uses the peculiar word “classicalism” to attack what he considers the falsely immutable laws of existence, the making of any instrument of life into the fixed rules of life, and the fixity of formalism, traditionalism, or conservatism, while considering the U.S., the nation freest of it, of, and this is the funny word, “classicalism,” which is meant to be a kind of bad attachment to a bad notion of “classic” (commercial culture and the digital culture are semanticizing such adjective not in the direction of Greece and the Roman Empire, but in reference to the previous model, think “classic coca cola,” or the previous interface or version of the program). Hence, Lippman advocates vigilance and non-subservience to foreign atavistic attachments, and instead a good ad hoc pragmatism in matters of politics and foreign policy. A little twist: our foreign-affairs “realist,” was initially involved in Woodrow Wilson’s Inquiry, making the most money in January 1918 (Lawrence E. Gelfand’s The Inquiry: American Preparations for Peace (1963): p. 337)! Hence, one must also register a significant falling off from the belief in multilateral collaboration and a renewed commitment to going flexible, plastic and solo in political and heuristic matters not to get too caught up in thick textures of (foreign) area studies. There is something here that exceeds the individual terrain of the influential conservative intellectual Lippman and that touches on our vignette of the English lad, classical and classicalist, wanting to have the cake and eat it too. The intent is no other than the universalization of the U.S., getting the most and best out of Europe, via British mediation, and the naturalization of capitalism, the historical horizon that matters, although this was not quite announced this way.

 

 

 

I was tempted to rehearse Ortega y Gasset’s criticisms of Toynbee’s universal history of civilizations in contrast with the “classical center” so to speak, if that was not too predictable a game. I still said my bit inside a controlled environment that appears built upon identical premises and inside which “Spanish” and “Latin (American)” is not quite “classical” and much less “classicalist” in the same way. The docile and superficial presentation of the nice working class lad was doing some of that in another time and place. It did a lot of that in the short amount of time such talks take nowadays, without paper delivery, in an eminently audience-friendly presentation of pure ideology. I am sure our representative “conservative” presenter does not feel inclined to take a good look down below at the wooden legs of the woobly table of his own uneven historiographic impulse. Again, his “classical” timespace is not ours. I simply want to prove the point of casting certain “classical” or “traditional” subjects of study, for example, the subordination of the history of the world to the immediate interests of US preeminence against the assumed ideal background of the naturalization of capitalism. You can see variation games of the same basic game. How many forceful divergences do you get to witness out there (non-U.S., non-West, non-European, non-English-language horizons of greater desirability of different models of alternative social models)? I must say that I see less often the typecasting of a radical difference involving other national characters addressing differently timespaces other than a certain (European-American, from Plato to Nato, say) inside the deflated Area-Studies template, or outside. Truism: the marketplace of ideas appears tilted in one “conservative” direction, or “classical / classicalist” as previously described. In our times of darkening, will your favorite colleagues continue emphasizing the unintended consequences?

Circumscribing the Area of Interest Around the Area Studies called Latin American.

 

It is time to whistle for the chasing dogs to bring the game down to the field or area of imminent concern, the dominant modality of Latin American Studies inside the more general rubric, or horizon, of “Spanish,” always already in the vicinity of the disreputable “humanities.” I do not think the social sciences are radically different or too far behind (I do not tire of emphasizing that the last sign in quotation marks is “foreign language,” virtually unintelligible for the vast majority of the “natives” in the immediate circumstance: humanities sounds like humanitarian intervention, or unrecycled humanism, being a good guy that is, and the absent-minded language is typically used oblivious of post-structuralist criticisms, when not prejudicial against them; “liberal arts” is the standard nomenclature, also eroded hermeneutically, and also at the level of sheer market share of student purchase interest of them). There is no “classicism” one can turn to for greater happiness. And this does not mean the critique cannot still happen ideally gathering momentum and greater force. I do not have to tell you that Latin American and Spanish are not “classical” in any conventional American sense of the word (read: conventional European heritage, minus the Iberian Peninsula, a dimension that does not historically represent a significant migration population in the US imaginary).  In semi-humorous Lippmanesque, the “classicalism” of Spanish and “Latin” goes mostly along the lines of the potential revenue of the Hispanic market, which is largely, as far as I can tell, pedestrian literacy for business-purposes mostly or only, double-major combination, elementary-foreign-language grammar courses and little more that could bring delight to your singing heart.

 

 

One easy local example of such “classical / classicalist” vis-à-vis the Hispanic / “Latin:” the older Charles Follen McKim building of the Boston Public Library in the historic Copley Square center of the city of Boston includes about 250 inscribed names on the façade, and a second set of 250 on the elegant side facing Boylston street. Of these 500 names or so, “Hispanic” are about 6, and you can put all of them comfortably in your backpack and take them with you to your favorite pub across the street to watch the Eurocup 2012 around some cheer, nachos and Harpoons. The detective nose in you will be right-on about the classical predictability: dead white European-peninsular males of high and old literary culture (Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Mariana, Cervantes, Calderón and Murillo). I may have missed one or two foreign Spanish names among representatives of the humanist intellectual tradition, certainly worthy of care and preservation inside an institution of discreet presence and limited budgets. What arguments could one possibly use in the US for the preservation of interest in such dignified names, is not at all an easy question to handle in public or in private. Bearing in mind representational quotas, the “Hispanic” percentage would be 0.83%, which is not be far away from graduating seniors, majors and minors in Spanish, and also not too far away from permanent faculty and managers in most institutions of higher learning (universities, libraries, museums), but also business, finance and politics, etc. I wonder if one should always smile upon hearing coming out of the official literature and the speakers the language of diversity and of cultural identity being broadcast by institutional managers, accordingly (remember the glorious vision of the desert future world in the aforementioned film A boy and his dog?). The clash with “demographic changes,” as the euphemism has it, cannot be emphasized enough. One of the inscriptions of the historic public library linked to the name of George Ticknor, whose name must perhaps be among those 500 names, reads: “the commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.” I suppose it is meant to be encouraging, but it gives me instead the Foucaultian shivers of discipline and punish. Take another look then, perhaps for uplift, at the adjacent Philip Johnson building, younger and uglier piece of architecture, recognized failure by the architect himself. It does away with nominal ornamental niceties, surely non-politically correct in our times of darkening. Its brutalist walls include no mottos, no names. Perhaps the severity of this modernist minimalism could deliver some hope for the future? Perhaps one can think of iconoclastic gestures of new things breaking free from old, obsolescent forms? I would like to underline the double adverb in the previous two sentences. Only those with a strong sense of irony will play catch with a few Latin American names fulfilling the representational token quota, for literature and culture, or anything else for that matter. Any trace of a librarian with the skills for bibliographic knowledge of historical sources in the “target language”? Perhaps in the pulp-fiction section? But do not worry: the motto is effectively destroyed in the streets. Move about with your microphone and ask the “natives” about the likely interpretation of such encomium of “education” and also about those 6 foreign authors. Do you bet your humanist money the interviewees will be clueless and unconcerned in equal measure? As you walk up and down commercial Boylston and Newberry streets, no option but to stick the tongue out against the standard evening spread out against debilitating (classical/classicalist) sky.

 

 

The easiest claim inside the “house of languages,” always already with a predilection for “Spanish,” is its tremendous institutional fragility inside the home of the brave. One provocation: such unit (Latin American Studies) constitutes by the time this writing gets completed a very discreet offering in the conventional table of disciplinary options, discreet at the previously mentioned hermeneutic level, and perhaps one should learn to let go of the rubric of the field at least strategically, occasionally since it is also inevitably caught up in the Cold-War template. The double suggestion is one, that our post-Cold-War moment is smithereens of such template, not radically different, and two, to try to operate negatively via such discrete presence with the conditioning and limitations: “Latin America,” conventionally what is not “Europe, “ the not West, also the not USA, linguistically, the Latin American is not “American,” racially it is the not “white,” the “humanities” portion is not “history,” in the same way that “Spanish” acquires correspondingly all those same features, with or without the Boston Public Library inscriptions, there is very little to nil name recognition and Spanish is for the American psyche demonstrably no high culture, currently of limited geopolitical interest, at least for a conventional manufacture of consent that will not immediately change tomorrow.

 

 

To wit: “Spanish” does not have epistemic force in the US, and most “natives” will be scratching the scalps with the fork in relation to the adjective in the sentence. One will have to fight such prejudice inside and outside the school playground indirectly, particularly in the current debilitation of education structures. Most provocatively, “Spanish” has no epistemic force in relation to the colonial scholar (Adorno) these pages are directly concerned with. It has some in relation to the most powerful mentor in the same institution (González Echevarría), but mostly in so far as it seeks a differentialist, inclusionist place for Latin American literature within the tradition of the West without ever, as far as I am concerned, challenging, the foundational constitutionalism of such tradition in the first place, which remains here a literary and literary matter only. I am not quarreling with the vigorous defense of both of course within the template of the foreign languages, which is not enough. This “literature” is ideological construct that has been historicized inside and outside Latin American Studies at least since the 1970s. I would defend the validity of the “contamination” of the sign, which makes such claims for the independence of the strictly literary unconvincing defensive mechanisms, impossible, undesirable.. I would also defend pushing further the interpenetration of the literary into the larger spectrum of literacy, for example, in a manner that is unafraid from promiscuous readings in other disciplines in the current disciplinary meltdown. I see both respectable Yale scholars keeping the distance from some of these formulations. Let us say this in another way then: epistemic is the potential of becoming powerful vehicle for significant knowledge production in ways that may provide a meaningful additions and changes to the total configuration, and also potentially challenge, if not entirely re-arrange such configuration, at least as it is institutionally constituted (the aim of my critique is institutional, mind you, and it should never be understood as an innate denigration of lack of talent “in here” or “out there”). Yet in another way: the inclusion of the one item, think of a piece of furniture, becomes potentially epistemic, truly significant, even “radical,” if and when it may potentially produce the insinuation of a force that brings  significant change to the entire landscape, set-up or horizon, of subjects and objects of knowledge production, otherwise we are dealing with mere additions to “landscape management.” I insist then: institutional or academic “Spanish” is for the most part not posing a significant challenge, and neither is Latin American Studies, at least in the conventional university sense of the “beginning of history” in the 1970s. Historicizing the negative or the lack is a matter of crucial importance to move the epistemic impulse forward, particularly when I sense a slow-down, a blockage, a not following through with some of the critical varieties that reach us today from the final decades of the previous century.  I still feel cultural studies, postcolonial studies and subaltern studies have a potential worth preserving in relation to a desirable radicality. Breaking out of a deafening silence, I am reaching out to a desirable level of epistemic protestation, which I feel it is tensely latent there informing the Spanish and “Latin” American signs.

How do Adorno and González Echevarría negotiate accordingly the epistemic limitations of “Spanish” in the immediate U.S. context? Ever so tactfully, a bit too much perhaps?, from a position of relative Ivy-League pocket of privilege that does not challenge big-frame expectations and general assumptions. The emphasis is typically on the liberal-multicultural ethos of inclusions, within the Western frame, and hardly ever on exclusion mechanisms, David Hollinger’s volume is a case in point. And I must add that expressions otherwise are included in some essays, Adorno’s being the least belligerent, al already noted. They intervene by sticking to the rubric of “Latin American literature,” keeping it distinct from intellectual developments in comparable fields of the humanities and social sciences, cultural studies, postcolonial, and subaltern studies. The theoretical focus is U.S.-centric with a focus on the immediate institutionality, which is naturalized space that is not seriously brought into question. There is apparently no good reason to do so. I suppose Adorno would situate herself in the negative prefix of the “unintended consequences” of the US foreign policy interests, but without ever saying one explicit word against it, as far as I can tell. Same situation would apply to her influential mentor firmly within the orthodoxy of ideological distance from if not hostility against the Cuban Castro regime, identity card of most if not all members of the Cuban-American migration. How big is the margin of difference between corporate university spaces and the ironies or contrasts that may arise in relation to the “unintended consequences” of the State department?

Adorno’s rendition is, I find, ever so polite and proper in a way it is not seductive, epistemologically and politically. It is fair to characterize her position and liberal social-democrat, U.S. style, on the Obama camp say, side by side positivist neo-historicism balancing out “native” and “indigenous” dimensions, side by side the centrality of “literature”? The eye of Polyphemus does not see everything and cannot predict every single move of the thinking operation running around the prairie certainly, but it is indeed the unavoidable perspective of vision of world history with precious little distraction, divergence, let alone radical challenge and “revolution” of frames of intelligibility. What are we to make of the inclusion of the dissident social-science of Wallerstein? A wink of complicity at the discerning reader? Is FGH too harsh and critical of caring colleagues whose commitment to literature and culture and Spanish is beyond doubt? Should one harp the ideological differences when there are so few players to build upon? I am not aware of Adorno following the consequences of the Wallersteinian collaboration with the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano, who is a favorite household name of a postcolonial studies of a certain historical bent. The differences exist: you only have to put U.S. state department, Rockefeller Centers of Latin American Studies,  regular offerings of Spanish departments included in most handbooks (feel free to tinker with the nomenclature of world languages and literatures, Romance Languages and Literatures, Iberian and Latin American Studies, Hispanic Studies, etc.), the pro-business congruity, the Americas Society’s Literature Department inside the Council of the Americas (COA) with offices in New York, Washington and Miami, and two counterpoints, the Cuban Casa de las Américas directed by Fernández Retamar, and another, the Casa de América in Madrid operated by the Spanish government). I suppose that I am saying that the ideological underpinnings and interests of Spanish and Latin American Studies have to be incorporated and situated inside these and other institutions allowing for cultures of historical scholarship engaging with differences and variations, but also identity and sameness within the horizon of US-Number One in the history of the world, but also of the frame of capitalism, and the various national interests caught up in business interests, etc.

There is certainly no absolute or totalitarian central planning that keeps the American system centered. Yet, who doubts the main force of privatization and corporate interests, the tax-exempt American model of collaboration with endeavors labeled “not-for-profit” by federal allocations? I would argue that there are precious few following through epistemic disobedience and away from Polyphemus. In fact, quite the opposite: Potus will be conferring honors to the scholars inside the tight pockets of relative privilege, and a fly on the wall has informed me of the office photo decoration of the Iowa scholar sharing a dinner with the Spanish Monarchy. How postcolonial is that? A certain variety of cultural and postcolonial studies appears less amenable to such photo opportunities. Mignolo for example, recently calling for epistemic disobedience inside fields of cultural and postcolonial studies, with whom she draws the clear demarcation line, is one, and the reasons remain unexplained after previous collaborations. Hence, do not wait for powerful verbalizations of exclusions, inequalities, disagreements and much less insurrections any time soon in some environments, with or without calls for “decolonization” originally made in the Age of Reagan. Weren’t other people doing something similar inside and outside literature and culture? Adorno has eyes mostly for González Echevarría, who is not willing to open up a panoramic field of vision within the favored and favorite Cuban-and-American channel of communication and traffic of cultural goods. There is, I would further argue, an enervating docility disciplinarily embedded here that exceeds the individualities in question with whom I would gladly share again convivial conversation and a good cup of tea or a good mojito any (professional) time. The argument engages, it should be clear, the symptomatic conditioning of the field of Latin American Studies, at least in relation to a certain official line of investigation that has to do with historical dimensions, call them “colonial” if you wish, ideally from the potentially contestatory “postcolonial” perspective if you wish (again, quotation marks circumscribe academic cultures of scholarship, a minority field of a minority discipline, so to speak). Hence, one learns to handle the loving towards these colleagues, who are certainly no enemies perhaps in the concrete devotion to textual matters, side by side the loving for the ideological quarrel apropos larger social and political matters, inside which they are not necessarily friends either.

One deliberate strategy is here to open up the field of vision against the deliberate narrow vision subscribed by Adorno, which is exclusively and faithfully González Echevarría’s early use of “colonial,” as in colonial literature, a divergent “Latin” and differential “American” claim to representational space and original value vis-a-vis the grand European tradition, the U.S. literary tradition is much less of a presence, typically much more debilitated. The line of defense is that of the Spanish-speaking side of the imperial legacy of the Iberian peninsula (a certain Latinamericanism is very much this “revolt” against your previous generations, you only have to trace down the two last names of González Echevarría). Adorno must negotiate the Cuban connection then, in close departmental quarters, and she does it in a predictable fashion with the two Robertos: Fernández Retamar and González Echevarría, only one will be called “Bobbie” in high places, guess who? Precious little maneuvering options, ideological and otherwise, inside institutional Spanish as presently constituted in the U.S., not only within private institutions of the Yale type. González Echevarría is, for Adorno, the main provider of historical and social panoramas, for example in relation to the horizon of the Baroque. His is the variation game in the vicinity of another Cuban, Alejo Carpentier, who is providing the Latinamerican neo-Baroque difference to the legacy of the European Baroque and of high modernism, often in the compare-and-contrast debate with postmodernism. This is, I feel, an eminently Cuban Baroque, let us call it that, in the negotiation of a fidelity on both sides of the Castro Revolution, including some French connections, diasporas and traffic with the “liberal” U.S. perspective and main platform of observation that looks at Havana within the emphasis on the continuity of the Iberian legacy, the tradition least broken, at least in the anomaly of Latin American Studies represented by González Echevarría (the “cut-off method” with “Spain” and with “Europe” being a certain orthodoxy of Latin American Studies in the U.S. still in the Age of Obama, with a predictable activation of identity politics the intelligent reader may easily guess playing against the (native) American “silent majority” aforementioned).

 

These exchanges must be put against the Cuban peculiarity, the “enemy” nation caught up in an embargo of cultural traffic until very recently. Within such geopolitical background, González Echevarría’s sustained interest in both Iberian Spanish Baroque and Latin American Baroque and the 20th century neo-Baroque literature remains a glorious exception in scope and depth of vision that, while keeping its distance from its ideological cousins, always already defends a dignified symbolic space for “Spanish” and “Latin” within the “American” and the Western tradition (not an automatic assumption, I must say, such good place inside the immediate U.S. circumstance). Here he remains committed to a (differential) source of inspiration embedded in the literary contacts with Cuban writers and migrant intellectuals within an expansive comparative-literature frame that could find the early name of René Wellek (another example of such transatlantic interest, ideologically opposite, John Beverley, and it is important to highlight that the Iberian dimension has undergone a considerable debilitation in both). Much less expansive, Rolena Adorno repeats González Echevarría’s panoramas in the “Havana and Macondo” article included in Hollinger’s edited volume, but I find, I must say, in general terms, without ever deviating, at least in print, to consider what others outside the immediate professional circle of validation are advocating, preferably Yale inside the Ivy-League, much less what others not in the immediate ethnic, chronological, linguistic context are proposing about issues larger than Latin American literature. The wink towards Wallerstein is uncharacteristic of Adorno’s scholarship, I claim. Our respectable colonial-studies scholar cannot cling to faith in an ethnic belonging from within Spanish, the last name coming from marriage to a Yale faculty not in the humanities.

This situational comment is simply highlighting the fact of a certain “strategic essentialism” that “plagues” practitioners of the foreign humanities in the home of the brave, call it a defense mechanism if you will in a society of liberal-multicultural nomads and monads, which is the automatic assumption that one is the assigned field of foreign study one covers, with precious little-to-nil wiggle room for deviations within the not necessarily benign environment of the U.S. “silent majority” (Americans can of course cover foreign domains, particularly within the naturalized platform of US foreign policy, but how often do you see foreign nationals covering third nationalities outside such platform?). There is a certain historicism at work here that does not quite rise up to its own justification, I find. What would the reconstruction of the historical figure of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala signify in this immediate U.S. institutional environment if not the token object of liberal-multicultural interest and theoretical inclusion, but only or mainly as long as the main structure of incorporation remains in place within such fields of minority interest, call them Spanish and Latin (American)? In moments in which historical courses are being taken down, what else do you see Rolena Adorno (one dignified name among a few others) doing to the Early Modern / colonial horizon of the seventeenth century inside a historically immediate and socially impoverished consumer-culture academic space within intolerantly capitalist grounds and shrinking frames of intelligibility, etc.?

The internal critique of the humanities –but also of varieties such as Area Studies, Latin American Studies, Spanish, etc.– should always include this contextualist, sociological dimension (I wish to acknowledge the inspiration of Harry Harootunian, his “Tracking the Dinosaur: Area Studies in a Time of “Globalism,” included in History‘s disquiet : modernity, cultural practice, and the question of everyday life (Columbia UP, 2000): pp. 25-58). The tough question: what is this diachronic foreign object of study doing in this native ground? And one must chase down authorial intention and put it within community of readers/practitioners. Yet in another way: how is the foreign-native equation operating accordingly? Who is peddling this merchandise circulating in what environments and for whom? What are the reader responses? Who would dare teach Guama Poma de Ayala in the current predicament of shriveled-up literacy? What would this mean if not some kind of “disruption” of common-sense or “frictionless” business literacy skills? Imagine the following rhetorical questions of surprise: how come she knows so much about Heidegger when she is Chilean? How on earth does she know so much about U.S. culture, when she is a foreigner from a country I know very little about?  How does she dare set up limitations and re-arrange the cultural furniture of the last few years by presenting larger visions? My prose is impersonating a jingoistic / racialized sense of unpleasant surprise (think of the delightful acting of Katherine Hepburn in Guess who is coming to dinner (1967)), and some of that is also active inside academic precincts. I simply want to highlight the desirable disruption of national/ist predictabilities, the “return of the gaze,” against those who from a position of relative privilege are resisting it, and the fight against the prejudice of the “foreigner-within-its-foreign-box” (un-)consciously enforced by word, deed and neglect, by those “natives” who are not too keen on “disorders,” while promoting vast frames such as world literatures and world cultures for example. Minor fields in the foreign humanities, in the vicinity of the foreign languages, often reproduce such subalternizing logic.

The deliberate use of Nixonian language has been of course ironic. It wishes to highlight the “prehistory” of the 1970s, which is when the adjective “Hispanic” gets codified in the American English language in relation to the US Census for example, and also in relation to the “minority” and “diversity” language, one legacy of such moment is the Nixonian Richard Rodriguez (I find useful the work of Moynihan and Glazer on ethnicity and internationalism to circumscribe the conventional liberal-multicultural line, within the Democratic Party, later rigidified by Samuel Huntington’s conservatism). And I suppose that this will be foreign nuisance for those outside the U.S., but it is inevitable conditioning of subjects and objects of knowledge production, and also everyday life in the streets. I still believe however that assuming ever so naturally the “majority/minority” language can be very dangerous, at least in our moment, the Age of Obama, vis-à-vis the “minority” fields here circumscribed. I claim that the adoption of such naturalized language gives too much (intellectual) territory to the “enemy,” so to speak. But perhaps one has to use the “Hispanic” sign in the U.S. context, in official settings such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The connecting dots between Hispanic, Spanish and Latin (American) are not one easy, straight line. Celestina’s Brood: Continuities of the Baroque in Spanish and Latin American Literatures (1993), follows what I would call “strategic-essentialism” line of diasporic immigrant communities, in this case, Cuban, inspired by a strategic Foucaultian historicism of continuity / discontinuity. Adorno links her famous call to “decolonize” in the Guama Poma de Ayala book (1986) directly to one quote by her Yale colleague, thus delinking such endeavor entirely from (im-)possible dialogues with larger sociological, vaster philosophical fields and much less with postcolonial trajectories coming from “Third-Worldist” inspirations (the Mignolesque line of Foucaultian historiographic discontinuity would be one obvious example). I cannot help but feel that there is no follow through. Her trajectory stifles such bold call by keeping it within assigned bounds, hardly questioning larger frames, keeping the investigation within the textualist and “literary” focus, and by sticking to a positivist historicism, shying away from demanding philosophical questions. Nobody’s perfect and Rolena Adorno is more perfect than others.

 

There is still some coy silence in the vicinity of the “decolonization” calls. I would call it Calibanesque and bring it close to Para una Teoría de la Literatura Hispanoameriacana y Otras Aproximaciones (1975). A provocative line of investigation could continue exploring the Hegelian lord-bondsman template (I see some Latinamerican thinking still engaging with this legacy, Baudrillard’s final books, explored in one previous culture bite, as well as Slavoj Zizek’s renewed Hegelian-Lacanianism for a contestatory European universalism, but this is a major theme for another time and place). It is “natural” for a certain Latinamericanism to want to keep any (European, Western) universalism at a critical distance, the field of study emerging in the global, capitalist marketplace of ideas at least inside institutions of higher learning and its Cold-War Area Studies world configuration directly implicated by, and connected to, the U.S. rise to superpower status. The crucial interest is then for me to try to get a sense of immediate context that may promote, frustrate, but certainly condition cultures of scholarship, put mirrors of (mis-)recognition in between subjects and objects of knowledge production, within the immediate circumstance in which one finds oneself located, at least for the time being. I want to anticipate the future of what the ideal knowledge production, post-Cold-War, post-Area-Studies, may stand for outside and inside the U.S. no longer being superpower and increasingly becoming meaningfully “Hispanic.”

Seeking the Larger Frames of the Original Object of Study: Latin American Literature.

 

Let us emphasize that claims are not only for the specificity and original validity of the object of study of Latin American literature, which is Adorno’s main line in “Havana and Macondo: The Humanities in U.S. Latin American Studies, 1940-2000,” included in The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion since World War II. There are many other things here: first thing, failing to address the less benign manufacture of marginalizations and exclusions, the deliberate road not taken of ideological divergence in the official Cuban island for once. Second thing: the implosion of the very notion of “literature,” emerging from some of these more sociological fields of “third-worldist” inspiration, one suggestion is the predilection for the focus on words like “letrado” and literacy, or the use of “literature” in the social sciences, meaning pertinent bibliographic apparatus. Third thing: the implosion of the very geography inside which the object of study emerges, typically called “Latin America,” which always already has to be historicized and perhaps also kept, at least sometimes, allegorically with the toes sticking out into the abyss of its own disappearance. Fourth thing: the institutional critique of subjects of knowledge production inside educational fields also inside the immediate circumstance, the foreshortening of the “background” being brought to the foreground so to speak, its interplay, the exposure of the specific interests of the status quo undergoing severe mutations at the present moment, call it the Obama Era, against the preceding three or four decades. One must pay attention to what does not get typically get talked about: institutional repudiations and marginalizations, deteriorations, (de-)institutionality. It is the deliberate narrowness of vision of our Yale colleague that I am exposing here as something that is not exceptional conditioning of the historical knowledge production called “colonial studies.” Such famous call for decolonization around the figure of the indigenous writer of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, against the anniversary celebrations and denigrations (1992), is significant element in our muddled and intellectual history, one of them.

It is the case that the no-good place of “Spanish” in the home of the brave may be going the way of progressive debilitations, even de-institutionalizations, or perhaps not. There are all sorts of historical, political, social reasons for such discreet presence and one must never hold one’s breath, never say never also here?, expecting the satisfactory, internal revolution of forms from within the university precincts (malestar in Spanish conveys circumstance and worrisome psychology, which I am recreating here). Unger has identified among the undesirable presences, or “enemies,” the modality he characterizes as the adventurist, subjectivist “humanities,” in complicity with a bankrupt status quo that he calls into radical question. Hence, his is the language of “times of darkening.” And I suppose one of his lights will be the “classical” 19th century European social-science constellation around figures like Marx, Weber, etc. This harsh criticism is coming from the deterioration of social theory which he wants to rescue, from a position of self-doubt that addresses global social problems, inside law schools, spaces self-explicitly devoted to elite (re-) production, Harvard above and among them, vis-a-vis U.S. superpower status. His calls are for the drastic update and reconfiguration of knowledge production, in his case with a focus on social theory and legal studies. The humanities are a thin presence at best. I wonder what type of discourse is being produced by the humanities, inside or outside cultural studies, postcolonial studies, Latin American Studies, “Spanish,” etc. keeping up with such radical critique. Mignolo’s “eccentric” calls for epistemic disobedience, perhaps?

Spanish Irony, Incongruence, Unintended Consequences

 

The “Spanish irony,” “its unintended consequence,” to use the euphemistic language strategically, is in the incongruence with the mutations taking place in the immediate circumstance, and also with the world at large, if only in relations to numbers. Yet, the direct correspondence, much less the mirror-of-nature assumption, between the institutional and the non-institutional world has to be always suspended and resisted, the institution always already responding to its own interests obviously in the tug of war with other dimensions. There is an inverted relationship, or a disrelationship if you wish: the more the US becomes “Hispanic” or Latino,” the less the apparent investment in such dimensions I can see happening inside and outside institutional life, with or without the entire rhetoric of minority and diversity, which is insufficient, as mentioned earlier. I am inclined to put first the image of dykes of containment of social pressures and energies for institutions over mirages and fictions of inclusivity within the “happy” horizon of peaceful, multicultural reconciliation. The best moments in The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion since World War II are about the limitations of such liberal-multicultural horizon, and Adorno is not very good at that. The crucial issue is not really that books portray a caricature vision of the world of Spanish (this was a point raised in the Harvard session around which this writing happens). Most worlds appear to be in simplified, stereotyped and caricatured fashion in a “culture” of thin content, fast interactions and instrumental fashion side by side enervating frames of expansive intelligibility. I feel inclined to highlight the diminution of such critical spaces in the vicinity of “Spanish” and Latin American Studies, eager to admit that my vision is not complete, while I am also criticizing that the holding up of a mirror to an “outside” (Latin American Studies to “Latin America,” and I am sure you will have other favorite fields of study, other timespaces and social geographies) is dangerous, awful naivety.

I suppose that what I am saying is that we are always already engaging with symbolic production, or simulacra, to use a favorite Baudrillard word, with no easy access to an “outside,” or “real thing.” Zizek’s Lacanianism asserts the simultaneous inexistence of the Big Other and the re-activation in the collective subject.The key issue is to look at institutions as vehicles and containers of social energies and pressures, not always hospitable and agreeable, fostering the growth of beautiful language and restless intelligence, but also engaged in discipline and punish, (re-)production of inequalities, institutionalizations of Eurocentrism, racism, etc. One must put together the horrendously small percentages of poorly called “minority” sectors inside predominantly “white” institutions eminently privatized, and the advocacy for greater “diversity” and “minority” visibility in the same way a gullible friend reached the realization that the increasing language of “love” that the object of adoration was using corresponded to greater indifference and manipulation not to his benefit. Every one is doing it, culture and diversity, and minority promotion, and how important the humanities are, etc. But this is done in the same way the natives will not elect a president of the nation who does not declare himself a believer, yet with the thin, underdeveloped theology and muddled tradition aforementioned, the theoretical option of atheism officially being taken out of the discussion table (think of the standard repression of eloquence in language in relation to capitalism and female genitalia in the standard American English language, and the main point is the self-styled virtuosity in the underdevelopment of things unpleasant, “don’t say anything if you have nothing nice to say,” a kind of institutionalist-officialist minimalism of language, thought and humanistic “decoration,” if you wish, against the anti-historical and uchronic rigidification, of the silent (white) majority.

Anywhere but here: why not get out? I am thinking of Luis Buñuel’s films about “conservative” characters acting incongruously, sticking cynically to what they are acquainted with, and being (un-)consciously incapable of leaving such spaces of incongruity and misery behind for other spaces not yet imagined, while passively aggressively, preventing the mere presentation of such limitations.  Are we all supposed to go along with this silent state of affairs and produce what kind of humanistic knowledge production accordingly? A whole new vocabulary is needed to understand mechanisms of (dis-)identification inside institutional life –call it “diversity” or “racial profiling,” predominantly in decision-making positions–  but also in relation to larger vistas of social life and labor that cannot stop at these institutional or national borders. Thinking of the verb instead of the more static and nominal essence may be one healthy and skeptical attitude: to institutionalize, rather than the natural habitation in the poly-syllable Latinate, uncommon word to the American ears in the streets, limited access and inequality, but also negations, reversions, decompositions, transformations are taking place as well inside a larger interconnected web of relations that do not stop at the institutional walls. In other words, we should not behave in the end like the naïve Jamesian American abroad incomprehensibly punching the walls of the convent keeping the foreign object of affection as though the walls had the true meaning of the lack of union between divergent trajectories. Assuming the radical contingency of this or that institution, against the “oceanic feeling” of other institutional possibilities in myriad contexts, must allow for the possibility of not giving in to despair, particularly when nothing else appears to be forthcoming.

 

How Come Spanish in the U.S. is not 90% Mexican?

One question I have mentioned in public, which is typically left untouched, is: how come “Spanish” in the US is not 90% Mexican, and the 10% divided among the various natural constituencies (Cubans, PuertoRicans, etc.)? Feel free to do your ethnographic proportionality, according to the U.S. Census. One does not have “be Mexican” to look into some of these mechanisms of closure on the part of the institutions apropos an uncomfortable unit that is “nonwhite,” and “Latin,” but mostly “over there” at the level of symbolic production, but also “here,” and hence “Latin/o,” mostly fitting into the Russian Matryoshka dolls of the “foreign-language,” big unit, and expanding, also in the “native” circumstance less certain of its role-model status, and this Spanish is messy, how could it not be? with a history of border-crossing and overlap, and with no good image, or one caricature inside domestic quarters, always already too close for comfort with no clear geopolitical-crisis focus, etc. Check out the section “The end of a good neighborhood” in Zbigniew Brzezinksi’s recent Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (2012), for some displeasing feeling of a rather conventional “Spanish” kept at some distance inside the official US imaginary inside a disparaging vision of an American society in serious trouble (pp. 103-109). It is this type of deliberate, negative simplification, a kind of rear-window vision if you wish, typically provided by eminent geopolitical domains of “culture,” that I am putting on the discussion table for analysis. The argument: the inevitable, often undesirable company of cultures of foreign historical scholarship in the home of the brave. Think of Cinderella’s ugly sisters.

Playing up a certain coverage accordingly: does not most of Latin America, minus Havana, fit into this ideological mirage still in the Age of Obama? Put a little Macondo in one corner of the table, a little Cuba closer to normalization, a little Colombia side by side military collaboration with US forces in the USSouthCom, Mexico firmly within the USNorthCom in case you wonder. Suspend the good argumentations of Dussel, Zea and O’Gorman, the logic is not philosophical, and the dividing lines are not diachronically based, and sensitive to delicate philological textual criticism, Western civilization, Anglo-Latin divides, or linguistic menu. Get closer instead to post-Monroe-Doctrine, post-9/11 “defending-the-homeland-security” and Pentagon demarcation such as Western hemisphere. This “America” has little to do with Bolívar or Martí. And it is typically closer to the aforementioned New York and the Madrid institutions than the Cuban institution with the same name “America” in it. Finally, there is greater visibility for Brazil, some for Argentina, Chile is now largely normal partner, and there is a little contestatory Venezuela and indigenous Andes against the thinness of the Isthmus and the massive insecurity in Mexico, conjured up as failed state: isn’t this most of the news coverage? Does any of this reality have anything to do with the aforementioned Spanish names on the Boston Public Library? How does this “regionalism” fit into conventional literacy courses at a moment when “literature” is a poor sell among student populations who would rather do something else, but what? Culture? Perhaps some culture, with the emphasis on the “some.” How is this internationalism facing the mirror of (mis-)recognition of the internal Latinization of the U.S., typically kept at some distance, at most dinner tables, with or without Hepburn, Poitiers, Houghton or the Marx Brothers? These questions are happening while institutions, one should want to believe, are thinking carefully about how best to take care of consumers and customers, stakeholders and constituencies, but there is perceptible bafflement and thick disorientations (check out: “No Superman will save education in America,” www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=59, and “Academic Life on a Sliding Scale,” www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=75). No one expects this to be an easy thing.

 

And What Frames of Intelligibility to Invoke?

 

And what frames of intelligibility to invoke? In a country with little awareness of what was happening in its midst one or two decades ago, with structural discontinuity at the institutional level, how to have some sense of where next? In the name of what? What kind of invocation would be the most persuasive? Would you invoke the well-being of the proud nation? Homeland security? Civilizational values, the West versus the rest? The number-one society in the history of the world? The welfare of the immediate (professional) community, helping you out to get tenure, when all other notions of commonality are missing in action? What about the faithfulness, vigor and rigor of disciplinary knowledge? Market values? The invocation of what tradition, exactly? The nourishment of family history in a nation of immigrants who turn to English ever so naturally without a clear sense of the “heritage language” (euphemism for the bad name of bilingualism)? The values of secularism against this or that religion, yet up to a point since the commander in chief must profess some kind of faith publicly? Individual skepticism versus this or that collective belief system? The values of polytheism, say historicism, if you can afford it, against this or that monotheism, or universalism, or the other way round? (it is no big secret that a certain orthodoxy of cultural studies and postcolonial studies shies away from universalist and mono-theistic dispositions, particularly in relation to European legacies and the Western tradition). Would the commoners in the minor fields of knowledge production bond easily, accordingly, defending their trenches in a battle that appears to be lost? Also the war (of ideas)? But,  are the older members of the profession friends of foes? What about the ethic-by-default, “enlightened self-interest” in a society of nomadic monads (the quotation marks highlight the common euphemism often shamelessly traveling to personifications of national interests the supreme goal of foreign affairs)? What about invoking anti-naturalism and anti-traditionalism in a society, still call it American, which thinks of itself as free-styling individual free choice away from Nature and Tradition? So, go ahead change your name, your hairstyle, your affiliation, also your field of study and name it what for the benefit of the customers and consumers? What about mastering the richness and sophistication of the Spanish language and bring it up to the epistemic level that allows for the dance with the imperial tongue? Or the opposite: what about the investigation of the global supremacy of the English language and its good geopolitical reasons (Baudrillard spoke ironically of the Empire of Good) side by side its philological evolution so that some estrangement happens?

 

 

 

 

I have asked rhetorical questions of course allowing for the expression of bafflement and disorientation that must accompany these pages. You are not going to see philological invocations of faithful reconstructions of textualities against some cohesive commonality of the nation-state, particularly in a society as complex, mixed, hybrid, immigrant, mindless, etc. as the U.S. Would the invocation of the fathers of the nation do? The recitation of the name inscribed in official monuments? But look at the scarcity of cultural decoration in the official neo-classicalism of its monuments! Is it possible to build any template for the phantasmatic frame of any sustainable collectivity? Is this awareness of the communal ephemerality instead also the possibility of something good being delivered, intellectually? Are we all speaking to the virtuality of community of readers and interpreters, the Unconscious, the deity, the Big Other? I recall the saying by Fredric Jameson that the drama of American intellectuals is that of not having a community. Hence, you must learn to activate a survivalist ethos and reach out with no one concrete community in mind. New immigrant (intellectual) Americans coming from petty-bourgeois sectors and small nations of discreet international presence, except for sports and entertainment, tourism and “culture,” not fully wanting to play the representational role, while occupying dwindling spaces university spaces and mash-up minor fields, call them the foreign humanities, with no immediate cash value in the corporate arrangement of what amounts to be called “knowledge,” and precious little social recognition in the streets of uncle Sam, one unpleasant uncle among others truly, will need a fair amount of luck in the business of ironic questioning the (geo-)politics of “culture,” for lack of a better word. A reminder: it is the working hypothesis that we are inhabiting non-places of Area Studies, that the post-Cold-War template of these studies, finds itself broken down into smithereens, and that these floating pieces –also imagine a jigsaw puzzle of unclear boundaries and missing pieces– are instrumentalized at least by the managers into something like the practice of gerrymandering in U.S. electoral politics on an ad hoc basis for the short-term benefit of whom exactly?

In the Ruins of Area Studies inside the Cold-War frame

 

The gradual realization of the habitation of the ruins of Area Studies inside the Cold-War frame does not at all mean that these ruins and frames will automatically be abandoned and its void or lack be turned into something else different, better, more persuasive. I will submit to you that we find ourselves in this waiting period, this transition, this lingering, the ruins not yet giving birth to something else, no dawn of a renaissance that I can see, the post-Cold-War not quite bursting open to become something new and other that will leave the prefix behind and fix the adjective of a war, or wars, that some have wanted to reach civilizational proportions. Is it incongruous for a criticism finding inspiration in postcolonial studies to want the possibility of a renaissance among the darker sides of the (post-)modernity previously described, also obviously in relation to the world of study? The language of postmodernity has receded in the last two decades or so since its high point in the 1980s, globalization and “world,” as in “world literature,” want to appear more descriptive and neutral. You can also detect similar recession in the language of postcoloniality. I gather it is symptomatic of the intellectual timidity previously denounced.

A default, defensive mechanism may well be in place so that official things stay the same, at least things like American supremacy or the hierarchy of knowledge production with or without sanctioned interdisciplinarities (you will have your family member marry the daughter of the local cacique with money, poor manners and provincial mindset, mostly to keep things as they are: Visconti’s great film delivers a great performance of a grand American Prince). Intellectual supremacy is less clear in an attitude of containment and the talk of decline is already naturalized inside some controlled spaces of university interaction, for example Unger’s prestigious institution. The crucial thing is to pay attention to the forms, and the content, epistemological and social, that such a decline will take in the following decades. In the meantime, voices such as Unger’s underline a lack of belief in the knowledge-producing practices, a dessication, a certain running on an empty tank, the exacerbation of the debilitation of traditions, but all of them?, as though they were all too heavy a burden to carry. The initial quote speaks of a sobering, humbling situation in which tradition becomes a nuisance, something alien and embarrassing, an awkwardness, almost pudenda origo, something that got “old” and became “history,” the American idiom is eloquent about what the quotation marks mean. The cultural program does not yet speak, and its inarticulateness mirrors the possibility of degeneration and degradation, barbarism at the core of the self-appointed stance claiming civilizational supremacy. Unger’s quote makes the connection, in 1976, includes an ethos, a collective mood of passive resignation, an aimless shifting from no-good place to no-good place, one pattern of inequality to another. It is against such despairing acceptance of the existing order, in a moment of crisis of the social order, and the dearth of protestations, that these pages are written.

The template of “Area Studies” traditionally divided up into Russian Studies, European Studies, Latin American Studies, Middle East Studies, East-Asian Studies, etc. finds itself in this crisis situation. Hollinger’s The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion since World War II inside which Adorno’s article is included, tellingly in the final position, rides in the broken tail of such crisis of intelligibility of a world undergoing momentous mutations, also hitting university structures. The official geopolitical faith that kept such template up and running, is now bust, with or without eloquent language wrapped around its bare bones. The deterioration of university structures, and here the predilection is for the foreign humanities in the “Spanish” and “Latin” trenches, is one clear sign of the larger crisis. And perhaps one should read carefully demanding works such as Edmund Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (originally written in 1954). What would the follow-up to Lyotard’s influential The Postmodern Condition: A Report on knowledge (1979) be? Wallerstein and Quijano are, yes, two good names for the endeavor. What knowledge from the “peripheries”? Suspicion is appropriate in relation to a certain facile talk of “interdisciplinarity,” a provocative topic at Duke University in the 1990s, at that time wanting to shake up disciplinary dust and old habits, firm boundaries and abundant self-imposed limitations. I do not quite see institutional units provocatively pushing through its most daring assumptions. Quite the contrary, it has become, to me at least, mostly code for academic-labor shrinking at least in the managers’ lazy lips (ad hoc “mash-up” of thinned-out disciplinary bits and pieces matching short-term teaching positions not reaching livable-wage levels, emptying out of academic merits, experience, etc.). The evacuation of knowledge production environments from within is not to be doubted. I keep asking the “natives” since when and until then has this society run like this turning the joke upside down and against the values of longevity and existential experience? You and I agree with Adorno: there will be “unintended consequences” of such measures. The critical light should be directly placed on the corporate intentionality doing tremendous damage to any true intellectual life.

In the Manner of a Conclusion.

 

And why should Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S., the language-symptom of poverty, but only if you follow capitalist-economic logic, be any different from all other immigrants? How to challenge the paradigm of assimilation and of “final solution” of everything that may have preceded such immigration within the all-American tradition of mono-lingual assimilation into (American) English language increasingly subjected to technological domination, consumer-culture rhythms, etc.? I paraphrase the tremendous line by Jameson that the English language on this side of the Atlantic is a thoroughly colonized language (by capitalism). And with it, the unconscious, the dreams, fears, etc. Other national varieties are catching up. Did you say Latin American Studies in the Home of the Brave?, has addressed some challenging issues. The author has wanted to kick the hornets’ nest. I will kick it again soon. I do not of course have any “solutions.” The key thing is to see what “studies” and “practitioners” do, what they claim they do, and how they go about it, inside a specific institutional set of circumstances, or network, and what they fail to do, and what the likely sociabilities (community of readers and interpreters, customers and consumers, stakeholders, etc.) may emerge to the political imagination in the meantime. “Latin American Studies” is one player among others. The referentiality of it taking you directly to contemplate the Latin horizon of the American continent vis-à-vis the non-Latin or “Anglo” of the United States of American continent with the aforementioned divide of two continents, North and South versus only one, America. Yet the suggestion has been not to look only or exclusively at such referentiality, but to bring it home to the sociology of knowledge production in the immediate circumstance.

 

There is little doubt that such field of knowledge production is a relatively marginal field inside the humanities and the social sciences at least in the U.S., and there are historical, social and political reasons for such state of affairs. There is also little doubt that these studies are the dominant dimension vis-à-vis the “Spanish” rubric also within US boundaries. The key interest is to make the most of such dominant-dominated tugs of war, more visibility-less visibility exchanges. In other words, one must always try to see how such “object of study” comes into being, following what kind of pressures, conditions, histories, interests, etc. Do you want to be seen by eye of the cyclop? Or receive the recognition medal for humanistic achievement from Pocus? I insist on the following: one must never follow solely the direction of the finger that points to an “outside” (say, “Latin America” for Latin American Studies). And the apparent doubling, or even tautology, is not so when you slow down and take a deep breath and underline the studies and the geopolitics and the institutionalizations. Such “outside” is manufactured “inside,” and the binding of the initial duality (inside/outside) is mostly a pedagogic exposition, useful initially. The multi-referentiality of the object of study and the typecasting of the subject of knowledge (identity politics, representational roles, cultural diversity, even racial profiling) are two crucial dimensions to which one must pay constant attention. One or two dimensions: “object” and “subject” of knowledge production? Abstraction of many permutations? Do you wish to take them down to Heraclitus’s river flowing of thousand and one historicisms with no universal synthesis of any kind? This is one big question for other time and place.

 

 

 

 

There are all sorts of reasons for the limited Spanish and Latin (American) visibility, immigrant, social, political and geopolitical since the early days of Ticknor and Prescott (check out my review of Richard Kagan’s Spain in America: The origins of Hispanism in the United States (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), Anuario de Estudios Americanos LlX, 2002; pp. 706-711). The previous vignette of the Boston Public Library illustrates some of that. Remember Spivak’s previous citation in relation to the cultural/ethnic studies corrective to orthodox comparative European literature, this is a second example of the unorthodoxy of Latin American studies side by side the “death of the discipline” of comparative literature, that has not been institutionally a traditional haven for Spanish and Latin (American). But perhaps the current messy interdisciplinarity will change that benign neglect. Adorno’s article has been a point of reference to help us historicize some transformations. My main quarrel with her cultural bite: ever so discreet and oh so polite. The visibility of the Latin American field of knowledge production of literature and culture is not what it was in the 1980s, the Ronald Reagan moment, and also the Rolena Adorno generation. Such dim visibility is happening in times of “darkening,” and of shrinking of the academic profession. One must learn to make the most out of the immediate historical past, and try to anticipate what will be meaningfully in place in the next two or three decades. This is a double challenge that looks at the thin, fragile film of your individual life straight in the professional eyeOld news: The (foreign) humanities in the home of the brave circa 2012 are fighting for their survival, since when? Ubi sunt, the strong points of reference, the courageous acts of intellectual daring? It is not clear how future generations will go about the imperfect-future gerrymandering of the post-Cold-War Area Studies template against the perceptible decline of grand historical vistas (the semi-humorous vignette of the docile and frivolous working-class lad is one good negative example of how not to do popular global history, politically and intellectually). I have included a series of rhetorical questions suggesting the debilitation of frames of intelligibility that may have been natural in other, earlier settings. One lasting frame of intelligibility is U.S. foreign policy as it tinkers with “culture:” how not to engage with it in the immediate circumstance of privatized institutions with direct links with the federal state running the sole superpower even in crisis or perhaps permanent decline? The disposition has here been, following Adorno, one of reluctance in joining hands and forces with national state interests, any national state interests, mind you.

 

What “values” to uphold then instead? Humanistic values? The intellectualist prejudice that seeks to pursue the most biting knowledge and the most provocative language use? To what objective? And “knowledge” means exactly what? And the “humanistic knowledge” within this knowledge behaves in what way? What about the value of no values: nihilistic values? What about saying “nobody” to the question coming out of the cyclop of menacing tendencies? The repudiation of the values approach? Are values needed to move forward this denunciation that builds upon Adorno’s ever so discreet enunciation inside the project sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences? I have contextualized the respectable colleague in relation to other colleagues and other institutions, also ideologically. I defend that there is something larger, collective, exemplary and symptomatic in Adorno’s historical scholarship. And the intent has been to circumscribe limitations.

 

Did You Say Swordfish?

I close down with an addition to Baudrillard’s introductory anecdote as regards the woman responding harshly and literally to the fake seducer. It includes Harpo Marx showing a real swordfish to the demand of the password, which is “swordfish:”

“Here the witticism is crueler, but it denies the password “your eyes” in the same way, and along with it the entire idealized rhetoric of seduction. For he only speaks to her of her eyes and her look as if he were talking about her: she is free to respond to this by the gift of herself, but not of her eye as object pure and simple. This cruel realist short circuit isn’t far removed from can be translated elsewhere as the cannibalistic consumption of the loved object –here it’s the extraversion of the self as pure object that operates as pitiless gratification. The object strategy, that of the woman, consists in interdicting the metaphorical displacement of discourse… This liquidation of metaphor, this precipitation of the sign into brute, senseless matter, is a thing of murderous efficacy (…). All the irony and cruelty lies in this excessively objective form of answer: it leaves the subject without recourse” (Jean Baudrillard’s Fatal Strategies (London: Pluto Press, [1983, 1990] 1999): pp. 122).

Many connections can of course be made near the Marx Brothers’ plethora of deliberate incongruous word-deed pandemonium. I can think of Mary Douglas’s sense of dirt as matter out of place (underwear roasting inside the oven, a wheel-spinning bicycle on top of a bed, frozen spinach inside the socks, tennis shoes sitting pretty on the dinner plate, etc.). This anthropological awareness is also relevant to the possibility of disruption the orthodox mechanism of symbolic production, think of “Spanish” and “philosophy” for example in the cafeteria menu of the average American undergraduate student for example, but also in relation to the horizon of expectations, the (dis-) organization of social typologies and hierarchies inside and outside university spaces (a “black” man in the white house, a “Hispanic” in the managerial chair, the best players playing in the favorite baseball team, the combinatory possibilities within the US Census “race-and-ethnicity” options, etc.). Imagine a university president speaking naturally in Spanish addressing a favorite constituency (“that would be stupid,” one hippie student girl retorted in a Spanish class mind you in the Hispanic Studies department in the small liberal arts college). We can also think of Foucault’s writings about Magritte’s painting, the “this is not a pipe” text, and add Borges recreated by Baudrillard (“On Carnival and Cannibal,” www.fernandogomezherrero.com/blog/?p=400). Perhaps intellectual life constitutes an exacerbation of the (elusive) love object within if not against the immediate background that needs the literal/ist harshness from time to time. Perhaps liquidation, abolition or negativity of the said love object constitute extreme, “radical” forms of such (hermeneutic) devotion. Hence, there is nothing  “conservative” about  “studies,” in the vicinity of “Spanish” and “Latin” as the signs have been described in these pages.  I can think of the combinatory possibility of the playful-metaphorical and the literalist gestures –I pull out an entire swordfish from under my coat to the demand of the password (“swordfish”) to cut the bullshit,  playing up the referentiality expectation so to speak, I cut off my eye so that my false seducer loses face for ever, I display an orange when you want me to pass the salt, I give somebody else the salt when you want the pepper, work is freedom as the sign in the concentration camp says, and the travels and troubles of academic labor of the underclass in globalization are the American dream, but perhaps one has to “fake” in public like a cheer-leader (“malvivir:” www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2012/04/22/espana/1335091230.html). Mutatis mutandis: Brazil, Japan, and the home of the brave inside a chronology that must at least include the last forty years. Such cruel-literalist variation game in which the repressive logic is brought down to an absurdist degree, the “bad guy” losing face, may include more examples:

One, once upon a time there was a student house in which one dominating personality with a strong liking for order placed stickers with the names of the objects as they fit in their proper place, according to her obviously. One particular night, after some celebrations say, the inventive house members retaliated by attaching stickers to most of the objects in the house, the chairs in the living room, the floor, the lamps, the dog, the eggs in the refrigerator, the clothes in the drawer, etc., so that the lover of excessive order would find them the next day obviously ridiculing the originator of such excessive political order. Predictably, the situation did not stay put there. She retaliated back. Aware that there was a sizeable pornographic collection in the house, probably the private property of the alleged leader of the revolt, the lover of political order, decided to cut off portions of the pornographic images of the sizable collection, and placed them all over the house on chairs, floors, lamps, dog, clothes, etc. Imagine eggshells with stickers of female breasts by the label “eggs” sitting pretty in the refrigerator, penises with the bananas by the “bananas” sign, inviting posteriors on the reading table by the “reading table” sign, etc. It turned out that the next day some type of repair was needed in the house, and the repairman rang the bell early the next morning catching the perpetrator of the original lover of order in the house unawares. Moving frantically around the house, she removed most of the graphic cutouts, but not all: images of  breasts were still there on the eggshells sitting pretty inside the fridge when the repairman went to fix, penises on the moving dog, inviting posteriors on lightbulbs, etc. The vindictive lover of order was thus caught up with dirty hands and red face, pants down so to speak, in the frenzy of her own absurdity.

Two, there is a little college in the middle of the big country officially devoted to the humanities. This college has a typical residential dorm, called the Spanish House, think of a mini-scale Instituto Cervantes, open to those students who want to improve upon their Spanish-speaking skills outside classroom interaction. The Spanish house is one theme house in the vicinity of others such as the Afrikan Heritage House, the Women and Trans collective house, or the Third World, which may or may not remained thus called after the elimination, by managerial decree, of the field of Area Studies, which did not graduate many students in the first place. There were no First or Second-World houses in this un-recycled Cold-War logic, other languages (French, German) had their houses as well, semi-served by foreign natives, none for English, none for whites, or males, or the relatively wealthy, or religious or sports themes, no radical socialist house that I can recall either. This managed cultural landscape was, I thought, exemplary of something larger (diversity-and-identity, or minority-and-difference), that has been addressed before. This Spanish –and it is Spanish mind you– poses no threat. It leaves the assumed ground, sameness or Identity, the assumed “silent majority” appropriately undisturbed, untouched, symbolically. Majority dorms have no themes. And this thematic approach does not include the economics of the four-year undergraduate education, which is considerable, or the pay scale of staff and faculty, with the revolving doors for temporary faculty. In this manageable thematic set-up, one gets the strong feeling of a privatized, insular “Spanish” peculiarity, also contrivance, artificiality. This is more taxidermic than long nails of the historical creature, less museumification than living endangered species in the plural-liberal campus offer. Within driving distance, there is one of the earliest historic Puerto Rican diasporic communities in the impoverished area. But the private institution is not embedded in the immediate locality. Most of the students come from out of state, also most of the faculty members. Most of those who get to stay are probably local. Trustees are mostly local. Staff member are eminently local. This residential vignette mirrors, in a silly and trivial way perhaps, other domains (departmental structures, curricula options, faculty/staff proportionality, etc.), vis-à-vis “Spanish” and “Latin” (American), against the officially low numbers of “minority” and “diversity” student populations, but also faculty and managerial configuration in the said college, of course mostly “liberal” and “white.” Spanish is easy and light cultural-diversity purchase for those interested, not many, in the said set-up that is mostly about easiness and lightness of academic being. It cannot be anything else. It has not been anything else. It will not be allowed to be anything else.

The infamy of the Spanish house of course has to do of course not so much with the elementary conversational level of interaction among undergraduate students in such setting. It has to do with the awkward managerial arrangement that had no reason to think much of such dimension since there is no social pressure otherwise. Asking for the hermeneutic importance of Spanish in this context is to ask for the impossible. The area will not call itself Hispanic not even after one too many drinks, the same thing applies to the college, historically situated in a dry town, a matter of some curiosity for the non-natives. If this is the immediate context, this is the anecdote: such Spanish house had the following pedagogy: to place identification stickers in the foreign language next or on the proper object (escalera, by the stairs, frigorífico on the fridge, cuchillos in the knife section, piano on the piano, caballo on the imaginary horse and plumas on the bird in the cage. The manager of the house, a long-standing lecturer in the department teaching elementary Spanish, often wore a Mexican poncho to make sure she was properly identified nationally. The two teaching assistants were cheap labor from under-qualified foreign locations with bare command of the imperial language, who put on display, certainly with the pride of proper national representatives, their best national habits, preferences and predilections. Appropriately, the decoration includes some flags, maps, etc. Now: dear Harpo Marx, please bring some disruption to the whole “native” logic, and display the “pez espada” but do not stop there. Put funny labels for example to the body parts of the residents and guests, play doctors and nurses, feel free to add evaluative adjectives (cabeza tonta, ojo negro, grandes ojos grandes, chica fresca, rico bizcochito dangling from the revealing t-shirt of the good-looking hippie girl, oreja torcida, pito hermoso, teta gorda, culo triste, etc.). Deliberately, change stickers,  misplace labels, subjectivize objects, objectivize subjects, mess up flags and geographies, invent cartographies, play with types and stereotypes, miscast characters, characterize whoever may come inside the house, whoever passes by, whoever never shows up, betray expectations, provide false cognates, abuse malapropisms, decontextualize, do false etymologies, frame identity politics in solidarity with the traffickers and violators of texts, the violadores de carros voladores in PuertoRican style, horribly missing and thus hitting the bull’s eye at the same time, carne frizada, la lis del apartamento, etc. The parvenus and hirelings –also at levels higher than the most humble set-up here described– will become purveyors of symbolic production in ways that are not simply “facilitation.” Would not this be a sweet revenge for the daily insult in the face inside the consumerism and thinness of symbolic production, mostly kitsch, and increasingly little “literature” and yes some culture, with the emphasis on the some.

 

You get the rebellious joke by now. Make the trouble travel to higher (social, political, epistemological) levels. Your critical imagination will not stop there at the walls of the said house, institution, geography. Imagine abstractions (deseo, metafísica, democracia, etc.). Imagine wordplay (perro stuck to the cat, salchicha stuck to the bicycle, grifo to the door, etc.). Imagine the misery of the colleagues who spent, will spend a lifetime in such a place. Imagine the contamination of departments and the promiscuity of disciplines bypassing the standard silliness of the “languages-across-the-curriculum” putting those native informers in cheap-labor teaching assistant in the normality of the subaltern position of negligible detail, diversity and “color.” “Spanish” is here nothing but a silly toy for the children to play with, carrousels of stereotypes going nowhere, against white-only or white-mostly percentages with appallingly low minority quotas. This is how anti-Hispanic prejudice wants Spanish to be for the centuries to come inside an immensely debilitated academic dimension at least as described by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. It is against this repressive culture where you can see the cruel point of the literal display of the smart woman, and of Harpo Marx’s swordfish, at least according to this recreation of Baudrillard’s semiotic gesture.

But things are more complicated of course in the interpenetration of inside and outside. I mentioned before the non-contiguous conditioning of spaces and geographies, and the non-continuous conditioning of temporalities and chronologies, which I still want to call Americanization, and perhaps there is a better name (capitalist penetration, mutation?). My impression is that in other places, at least the places I am familiar with, in Europe and Latin America, such penetration is less severe and the assumed predilection is for space contiguity and chronological continuity. So, longevity is a plus value, a sign of enrichment. You live in a city and the city is your space, something larger than you and you assume it as such. And you cross a street and you are still in the same fundamental area in the same city that you do not want to see degraded, because it is part of who you say you are to yourself and to others. I am playing up the difference embedded in the intensity of capitalist penetration with a focus on the US. Here, you can cross the street and be in too totally different and disparate planets, sociologically with few contact zones. Privatization of social relations: gerrymandering, generation gaps, idiolects, loss of historical horizons so that it is not strange that contemporary teenagers have not heard of popular characters such as Groucho, Chico, Harpo… The intensity of the anti-historicism that privileges the latest novelty and that I wish to call American, puts the “classic” or previous (technological) model in the dustbin of history, without second thoughts, and detaches it and delinks it from traditions, “classicalistically” speaking, and I am of course using ironic Lippmanesque language. You would have thought that historical experience was untouchable value, and you appear to live in a society built upon the opposite values, call them unnatural, untraditional, of discontinuity and non-contiguity. I am highlighting the distance from the big singulars: Nature and Tradition. What kind of knowledge production is normalized here accordingly? I feel I must continue exploring these timespace mutations and the obvious impact in subjects and objects of knowledge production in a global society with no center  (Daniel Bell spoke of the US as a decentered society; he did not mean it in an accusatory fashion, such condition could signal supreme flexibility and dynamism). What if the previous little house in the little college was simply one piece inside a larger network with no centers of intelligibility, and no clear boundaries or frames (of intelligibility), no resilient traditions, no-good communities, etc.? Do our “cultural studies” spread out confidently upon what analytical table under what sky using the bits and pieces of what (post-)imperial map to get us all where exactly?

I have been protesting that the foreign-language humanities represent a dramatic case of institutional fragility in the home of the brave. Historicizing such fragility will have to prove its contingency. I will need to push my own writing further accordingly since among other things the distinction native-foreign, insider-stranger is never absolute, particularly in the conjuncture of increasingly mobile monads and nomads with relative, attachments to locality and sometimes unpredictable construction of genealogies. At the same time, I feel that temporalities and chronologies are being decimated, thinned out and accelerated and Virilian provocations are my guide here. They can be yours too. If my American students in the little college did not recognize the face of the Marx Brothers, what does that generalized phenomenon say about self-awareness of visual popular culture in your own immediate society, much less others, and what are the political possibilities and the social consequences of such obliviousness? Would the results be better if we turned to any intellectual tradition out there? And what do you think the pedestrians strolling along Boylston street will say about the 500 names inscribed in the walls? Liberating mindlessness? I do not think so. Do I philosophize too much?, I almost hear you saying.

The etymology of religio may be operative in the opposite or negative form of the social bond undergoing debilitations, if not cutoffs from traditional ties. I submit to you that this is where we are caught up in the (post-)Cold-War frame of (area) studies not quite left behind yet. Clearly the type of institution of higher learning of infinite modesty and outrageous price tag described before in quick and colorful brush strokes is not the type of society that will endure. Its time may well be over in three or four decades, say by 2050, when the US Census predicts a majority Hispanic population for the US, whatever the last adjective may hold in stock. Such environments may have already lost the joy, “cultural” epistemic or otherwise, with or without the awkward marketing they are forced to do to try to survive. What remains in the end is the reconfiguration of privatized social relations inside corporate understandings of customer service and public relations, of supply and demand, of streamlining and downsizing, of evacuation of knowledge and of experience that I fail to believe will linger for long. Still, what you thought a joke (the repression of history) may turn against you, hitting you in the face so to speak, almost in the manner of classic American comedy with piano-dropping from the sky above, pie-throwing, funny gestures of arms and legs and all. And the joke is not funny anymore if it is your life in such timespaces of infinite degradation and a sense of alienation appears very appropriate, a healthy thing.

In times of darkening and of future imperfect, where else to turn to, if not to contemplate the immense debilitation of other historical ideals (the humanist-Renaissance ideal, the Enlightenment ideal, perhaps the emancipatory and the “decolonizing” ideals)? But more nagging questions of uncertain answer in the end: The reconstruction of the past, for what? The cultivation of sophistication of reading and writing practices seeking what in the present global society? The challenge of the supremacy of the English language in the name of what Spanish or to get to what? To dare to know what exactly? To rescue what from what? Decolonization, side by side  Adorno’s colonial-studies variety of historical scholarship next to “Spanish” and “Latin American literature,” means what exactly inside the dominant corporate-model in the immediate context of the U.S. in the Age of Obama as opposed to previous ages (Nixon, Reagan, etc.)? Any good reason not to go through the negativity of the foreign humanities to reach out to other, utopian things not yet experienced, not yet even imagined?

Any comments, suggestions, get in touch: fgh2173@gmail.com